Intelligent Energy

Virgin introduces a lower carbon jet fuel

Posting in Energy

Virgin airlines will soon supply major air routes with fuel obtained by recycling industrial waste gases that would otherwise be released as carbon pollution.

Virgin founder Richard Branson said that the announcement marked a "momentous day" for the company and sustainable aviation.

As traditional fuel costs climb, jetliners are being fueled by everything from biodiesel to plant oils. Virgin Atlantic is opting for a “low carbon” fuel that’s recycled industrial pollution.

Today, the airline announced a partnership with LanzaTech, a start-up from New Zealand that has developed a process to convert carbon monoxide containing gases into fuel, which would otherwise become carbon dioxide.

Virgin benefits by reducing volatility in its supply chain, and is progressing toward a self-imposed goal of a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions per passenger by 2020. The fuel itself is not clean per se, but carbon emissions are reduced by recycling waste.

The company will be participating in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme beginning next year. You can read more about Virgin's sustainability initiatives on its Web site.

Industrial waste gases will be reclaimed at locations such as steel mills, fermented, and then chemically converted into jet fuel using technology provided from Swedish Biofuels. This process produces half the carbon footprint of conventional jet fuel, Virgin says.

Boeing is also a partner in this initiative; its role will be to support the fuel’s approval process. Boeing’s vice president of environmental strategy and aviation policy, Bill Glover, declared his company’s support for the project and stated, “sustainable aviation biofuel based upon conversion of alcohol to jet fuel is the next type of biofuel which will be under consideration for approval for use in commercial aviation.”

Here’s a brief explanation on how LanzaTech’s technology works:

LanzaTech's fuel creation process

Virgin’s suppliers will go into full production by 2014. Virgin will use the fuel to supply flight routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow. Supporting infrastructure is being constructed in China and India.

Image Source: LanzaTech

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure