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Travel industry news

02 Oct 2018

BY Jennifer Morris


Passengers board Virgin Atlantic's first sustainably fuelled commercial flight

Virgin Atlantic will take a “landmark step” towards the widespread use of sustainable jet fuel tonight (Tuesday October 2) when it operates its first commercial flight powered by a greener alternative to traditional fuels.

Virgin Atlantic Richard Branson 2

TTG is joining the airline's first flight powered by a greener jet fuel, departing Orlando this evening

TTG will join Virgin Atlantic’s flight VS16 from Orlando to Gatwick on Tuesday (October 2) – supported by Boeing – fuelled by biotech firm LanzaTech’s first batch of jet fuel made with recycled waste industrial gasses.


While many airlines have been testing more sustainable fuels, Virgin Atlantic believes LanzaTech’s product being made from plentiful and affordable waste streams means it could eventually be “on a par with current fossil fuel prices”, thus making it more “commercially viable” than alternatives.


VIDEO: Why Virgin Atlantic is turning to sustainable fuels


LanzaTech – which has been working with Virgin Atlantic since 2011 and which has secured the support of the US Department of Energy – takes these waste, carbon-rich gases to make ethanol, which can then be used for the creation of jet fuel.


Passengers on the Orlando flight will be welcomed by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, who will marshal the aircraft into its stand at Gatwick.


Virgin Atlantic is now calling on the UK government “to commit to making this fuel a commercial reality in the UK” following a £400,000 UK government Future Fuels for Flight and Freight grant to determine the feasibility of building a 40-50 million US gallon jet fuel plant in Britain.


“Allowing access for new carbon capture and utilisation technologies like LanzaTech’s to incentives already given to earlier generations of biofuels and providing critical investor support will enable first plants to be swiftly built,” said the airline in a statement. “Without these key next steps this opportunity will no doubt be picked up elsewhere,” it added.


LanzaTech believes with such support it could have three UK plants running by 2025, producing up to 125 million gallons of sustainable fuel per year – enough to fly all Virgin Atlantic’s UK outbound flights (as a 50:50 mix with current fossil fuels).


Virgin Atlantic claimed in its statement the LanzaTech approach had “huge scale-up potential”. “If the technology were rolled out worldwide to the world’s eligible steel mills, this alone could produce enough fuel to meet around 20% of the current commercial global aviation fuel demand,” it said.


The technology can also be used to convert other wastes such as gases from oil refineries and residues from agricultural processes.


Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Alongside flying more efficient aircraft, sustainable jet fuel is critical to reducing our carbon footprint in the future.”


Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive at LanzaTech, said: “Today, with our carbon smart partner, Virgin Atlantic, we have shown that recycling waste carbon emissions into jet fuel is not impossible, that waste carbon needs to be thought as an opportunity not a liability, that carbon can be reused over and over again.”


Sheila Remes,vice-president of strategy, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, added: “We’re proud to see our longstanding collaboration with LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic reach this momentous milestone. Not only does this project demonstrate how air transport can grow sustainably, it sets the stage for expanding commercial availability of new sustainable aviation fuels.”

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