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Jet Fuel from Carbon Waste Powers Virgin Atlantic Flight

Richard Branson at Gatwick

Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson flags-in flight 16 at London’s Gatwick Airport. Flight 16 was the company’s first flight to use fuel from recycled industrial carbon waste. (Virgin Atlantic, Twitter)

3 Oct. 2018. A Virgin Atlantic flight arriving earlier today from Orlando, Florida to London’s Gatwick airport is the first to use a biofuel made from fermented carbon-rich industrial waste gases. The recycled jet fuel for the Boeing 747 aircraft is a project of industrial recycled carbon company LanzaTech, based in Chicago, with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory or PNNL in Richland, Washington.

LanzaTech’s process captures and sequesters industrial gases, often rich in carbon, which prevents the gases from entering the atmosphere and contributing to accumulations of greenhouse gases. The company then feeds the gases to a type of bacteria known as acetogens that grow, feed on, and ferment the waste gases to produce ethanol without the use of sugars. LanzaTech says steel plants produce a high volume of theses gases, but they can also be provided from municipal and industrial solid waste, as well as biomass and carbon dioxide.

The ethanol produced from this process is then formulated into a range of products, including in this case alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene, or ATJ-SPK. In April, the industrial standards group ASTM approved gas-fermented ethanol as a feedstock for ATJ-SPK used in commercial flights in up to 50 percent blends with conventional jet fuel. The catalytic LanzaTech/PNNL process also removes oxygen and residual hydrocarbons from the ethanol, which PNNL says reduces soot from the fuel when burned.

The U.S. Department of Energy that supports the national labs, is also helping LanzaTech with full-scale production of fermented-gas ethanol for jet fuel. The Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office helped fund design and engineering work on a production facility for jet fuel from fermented-gas ethanol. The fuel used in today’s flight was produced at LanzaTech’s Freedom Pines facility in Georgia. The U.K. government is supporting a similar facility in that country.

John Holladay, PNNL’s deputy manager for energy efficiency and renewable energy, notes in a PNNL statement that, “This fuel exceeds the properties of petroleum-based jet fuel in terms of efficiency and burns much cleaner.” Jennifer Holmgren, Lanzatech’s CEO points out that,”Many people thought recycling waste carbon emissions into jet fuel wasn’t possible. We have shown that waste carbon is an opportunity not a liability and that carbon can be reused to provide sustainable benefits for all.”

Using more energy-efficient and environmentally-responsible fuels is a continuing objective of Virgin Atlantic founder and chairman Richard Branson, who along with LanzaTech staff, tells more about today’s flight, the biofuel project, and the company’s environmental efforts overall in the following video.

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