He may be busy getting his space travel venture Virgin Galactic off the ground, but when it comes to sky-bound travel, it seems space isn’t the final frontier for Sir Richard Branson. His company Virgin Atlantic has announced it is partnering with Kiwi clean energy technology company LanzaTech to develop a “world-first” low carbon aviation fuel.
The deal with virgin Atlantic will see waste gases from industrial steel production being captured, fermented and chemically converted using Swedish Biofuels technology for use as a jet fuel.
A specialty of LanzaTech, the fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide — an area LanzaTech has become quite the expert in.
According to LanzaTech, this process can be applied to waste gases in 65 percent of the world’s steel mills, meaning there’s the potential to roll the fuel out worldwide. The company is also in discussions regarding operations throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom. A single UK facility could allow the fuel to be used across Virgin Atlantic’s worldwide destinations, and would provide CO2 savings of 70,000 tonnes a year. LanzaTech said a detailed analysis suggests the fuel could produce around a 50 percent saving in lifecycle carbon emissions.
Branson, who is due to touch down in New Zealand next week to speak at the 50th anniversary of Outward Bound New Zealand, said the low-carbon fuel is a “major step towards reducing our carbon footprint”.
"It is important that these new fuel solutions are sustainable, and with over with 15 billion gallons of jet fuel potentially generated from the billion tonnes of steel produced annually, this exciting new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel.”
The partnership brings Virgin Atlantic one step closer to fulfilling its pledge of a 30 percent carbon reduction per passenger km by 2020.
LanzaTech’s chief executive Dr Jennifer Holmgren said that as well as “dramatically” reducing the carbon footprint of airlines around the world, the technology also “promotes sustainable industrial growth” by enabling manufacturing plants to recycle their waste carbon emissions.
Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech will work with Boeing and Swedish Biofuels towards achieving the technical approval required for using new fuel types in commercial aircraft. A ‘demo’ flight with the new fuel is planned in 12-18 months.
Virgin Atlantic plans flights with the new fuel on its routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow within two years, as LanzaTech and partners develop facilities in China and India. The technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand and a larger demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year. The first commercial operation will be in place in China by 2013.
The Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), the leading international body to ensure the sustainability of biofuels production, will advise the team to ensure the fuel produced meets key environmental, social and economic criteria.
LanzaTech’s research and development might still be based in New Zealand, but the company has had a stake in the international clean technology scene for some time now. Over the past couple of years it has signed memorandum of understanding’s to commercialise its technology with a Korean steel giant, a Chinese steel producer, China’s largest coal producer and India’s largest commercial oil enterprise. But its latest partnership probably presents its most commercial partnership yet.