LanzaTech and Swedish Biofuels partnering with Virgin Atlantic on waste gas-to-ethanol-to-jet fuel process; targeting commercial use by 2014
Virgin Atlantic announced the development of a low-carbon, synthetic jet fuel kerosene produced from industrial waste gases with half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative in partnership with LanzaTech and Swedish Biofuels.
Virgin Atlantic will be the first airline to use this fuel and will work with LanzaTech, 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, with commercialization targeted for 2014.
The new process uses LanzaTech technology to capture and ferment waste gases from industrial steel production into ethanol (earlier post), and Swedish Biofuels technology to chemically convert the resulting ethanol into a synthetic jet fuel. The fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
New Zealand-based LanzaTech’s proprietary gas fermentation technology converts the carbon monoxide-containing waste gases emitted by blast furnace, coke oven and BOF (basic oxygen furnace) operations into low-cost ethanol and high-value chemicals, providing a commercially scalable alternative to traditional ethanol production and its heavy reliance on agricultural food crops.
The CO-containing gas enters the process at the bottom of a bioreactor, and is dispersed into a liquid medium where it is consumed by LanzaTech’s proprietary microbes as the reactor contents move upward in the reactor vessel. The net product is withdrawn and sent to the product recovery section.
Swedish Biofuels AB, a Stockholm-based company, has developed technology for the production of alternative aviation fuels and has demonstrated this technology under a project funded by the US Government Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). During this project Swedish Biofuels has used its technology in the production of fully synthetic, 100% biological aviation fuel from a wide variety of non-food biological feedstocks including lignocellulosic biomass.
The full Swedish Biofuels process converts biomass into a solution of sugars, which are then fermented into a mixture of C2-C5 alcohols, which is then converted by chemical synthesis into a mixture of C4-C20 hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are subsequently separated into biological gasoline, kerosene and diesel by rectification.
Virgin Atlantic plans flights with the new fuel within two to three years on its routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow as LanzaTech and partners develop facilities in China and India. The technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand, a larger demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year, and the first commercial operation will be in place in China by 2014.
Following successful implementation, a wider roll-out could include operations in the UK and the rest of the world.
This next generation technology overcomes the complex land use issues associated with some earlier generation biofuels, and detailed analysis suggests the fuel will produce around a 50% saving in lifecycle carbon emissions. 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.
Virgin Atlantic believes that this development will take the airline well beyond its pledge of a 30% carbon reduction per passenger km by 2020. The investment in renewable fuels is part of our wider program to reduce carbon through measures such as using new, more fuel-efficient aircraft and supporting a global carbon cap and trade scheme.