Sir Richard Branson Moves to Waste Fuel for Virgin Airlines

Sir Richard Branson says that Virgin Atlantic Airways will be running on waste gas-based fuel by 2014.

The fuel is made from recycled industrial gases, which are captured from industrial steel production, and then fermented and chemically converted into jet fuel.

"This technology will enable airlines to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by reusing gases that would otherwise have been emitted directly into the atmosphere. It promotes sustainable industrial growth, as the process enables manufacturing plants to recycle their waste carbon emissions," says Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech CEO.

If all goes well with current pilots in New Zealand, and in Shanghai later this year, Virgin says it will roll it out worldwide.

One of the development partners, LanzaTech, estimates the process can be used at 65% of the world’s steel mills, and it could also be applied to metals processing and chemical industries. That would make the new fuel feasible for worldwide commercial use.

"With oil running out, it is important that new fuel solutions are sustainable, and with the steel industry alone able to deliver over 15 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, the potential is very exciting.  This new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel," says Sir Richard Branson, Virgin President.  

Further, the technology overcomes the complex land use issues associated with earlier generation biofuels, while cutting lifecycle carbon emissions in half.

Virgin has pledged to reduce the carbon it emits per passenger 30% by 2020. In addition to running on renewable fuels, it’s investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft and advocating for a global carbon cap and trade program that includes the aviation industry. 

Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to test biofuels – in 2008, it flew from London to Amsterdam on a combination of  babassu and coconut oils.

In August, President Obama announced a $510 million public-private partnership to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels.

Passenger air travel accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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