Government support for LanzaTech's low-carbon jet fuel could enable three UK plants by 2025, says Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 takes on LanzaTech fuel blend at Orlando (photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire)
Tue 9 Oct 2018 – Virgin Atlantic has urged the UK government to offer LanzaTech access to the same incentives given to earlier generations of biofuels that would provide critical investor support to enable the building of three commercial low-carbon jet fuel production plants in the UK. With the incentives, LanzaTech says the three plants could be producing up to 125 million gallons of sustainable fuel per year by 2025 – enough to fly all Virgin Atlantic’s UK outbound flights as a 50/50 mix with conventional jet fuel – and other important benefits to the UK. Without support, “the opportunity will no doubt be picked up elsewhere,” said the airline. Government ministers were on hand at London Gatwick Airport to welcome the first commercial flight to use the LanzaTech alcohol-to-jet fuel.
The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flight from Orlando, Florida, was also greeted by the airline’s founder, Sir Richard Branson.
“Long haul travel is more important than ever for connecting people around the world and it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re doing that in the most sustainable way possible,” he said. “Working with LanzaTech will enable us to greatly reduce our carbon emissions and at the same time, help support UK industry. That’s why we’re excited to showcase this fuel on its first commercial flight as we plan for the world’s first full scale jet fuel plant using this amazing new technology.
“The LanzaTech process is important because this fuel takes waste, carbon-rich gases from industrial factories and gives them a second life – so that new fossil fuels don’t have to be taken out of the ground. This flight is a huge step forward in making this new technology a mainstream reality.”
The waste, carbon-rich gases are converted to make ethanol, which can then be used for a range of low-carbon products, including jet fuel. The alcohol-to-jet process was developed in collaboration with the Pacific Northwest National Lab and the US Department of Energy. If the technology was rolled out globally to the world’s eligible steel mills – about 65% in all – LanzaTech estimates production could supply around 20% of the current demand for commercial aviation fuel. The Chicago-headquartered company also highlights 70% life-cycle carbon savings as well as no land, food or water competition issues and RSB sustainability certification. Because of the plentiful, affordable supply of waste-streams, it says the fuel could be competitive with current fossil fuel prices.
Apart from saving nearly 1 million tonnes of life-cycle carbon in a hard-to-carbonise sector, Virgin Atlantic claims three UK plants would support a burgeoning bio-economy sector, thousands of clean growth jobs across the supply chain, enhanced fuel security and provide important trade import and export potential. “All benefits the UK desperately needs as we face a post-Brexit Britain,” says the airline.
CEO Craig Kreeger said: “At Virgin Atlantic, we’ve always been committed to reducing our environmental impact and LanzaTech will play a big part in that ambition. Alongside flying more efficient aircraft, sustainable jet fuel is critical to reducing our carbon footprint in the future. We’re excited to host this landmark event and are now calling on the UK government to commit to the critical next steps to help bring this next generation sustainable fuel to the UK.”
LanzaTech has already secured a £410,000 ($530,000) UK government ‘Future Fuels for Flight and Freight’ grant towards a feasibility study for a 40-50 million US gallon commercial-scale jet fuel plant. Second-stage capital funding grants are due to be made available through the Department of Transport to successful applicants in early 2019.
“We are committed to cutting carbon emissions and promoting new, environmentally-friendly fuels, especially for aeroplanes that will rely on traditional fuels for years to come,” commented UK Aviation Minister Liz Sugg at the Gatwick ceremony. “We’re supporting innovation in advanced fuels through the ‘Future Fuels for Flight and Freight’ competition that will help industry build advanced low-carbon fuel plants here in the UK.”
Added Claire Perry, Energy and Clean Growth Minister: “As part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we’re backing this kind of outside-the-box thinking by investing £100 million (US$130m) in low-carbon industrial innovation to ensure we modernise our industries and accelerate the shift to low-carbon transport.”