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LanzaTech waste gas to biojet project achieves breakthrough

The breakthrough towards developing commercially viable low carbon fuel is the result of a partnership between air carrier Virgin Atlantic and waste-gas-to-fuel and chemicals technology developer LanzaTech. Since 2011 they have been committed to producing the world’s first jet fuel derived from waste industrial gases from steel mills via a fermentation process.

Steel production produces waste carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which is frequently flared to the atmosphere. The LanzaTech process involves capturing carbon from the waste gas via fermentation to ethanol, which is recovered to produce ethanol feedstock for a variety of products, including aviation fuel. Each litre of ethanol is converted to produce 1/2 litre of aviation fuel via an alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) process (photo courtesy LanzaTech).

The first 1 500 US gallons (5 688 litres) of “Lanzanol” was produced in China at the Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certified Shougang demonstration facility. The innovative alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) process was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) with support from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and with the help of funding from HSBC.

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic are now set to continue to work with Boeing and a host of industry colleagues to complete the additional testing aircraft and engine manufacturers require before approving the fuel for first use in a commercial aircraft. Assuming all initial approvals are achieved, the innovative LanzaTech jet fuel could be used in a first of its kind proving flight in 2017.

We can now truly imagine a world where a steel mill can not only produce the steel for the components of the plane but also recycle its gases to produce the fuel that powers the aircraft.  This program illustrates that such breakthroughs are only possible through collaboration. In this case, it is governments (US DOE, FAA, DARPA), laboratories (PNNL, AFRL, SWRI, MTU, UDRI), NGOs (RSB) and industry (Virgin, HSBC, Boeing, Shougang, Airlines for America) coming together to disrupt our current global carbon trajectory. We look forward to working with colleagues past, present and future to make this pioneering new fuel a commercial reality, said Dr Jennifer Holmgren, Chief Executive of LanzaTech.

Following a successful ‘proving flight’ the data collected will enable the partnership to seek approval to use the fuel on routine commercial flights. This would also help pave the way for LanzaTech to fund and build their first commercial jet fuel plant to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines. As a UK based partnership, it is hoped the first LanzaTech jet fuel plant would be based in the UK.

This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry’s reliance on oil within our lifetime. Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to test a biofuel flight and continues to be a leader in sustainable aviation. We chose to partner with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and the commercial potential of the jet fuel. Our understanding of low carbon fuels has developed rapidly over the last decade, and we are closer than ever before to bringing a sustainable product to the market for commercial use by Virgin Atlantic and other global airlines, said Sir Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Atlantic.

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