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Low carbon jet fuel - our partnership with LanzaTech

In October 2011 we were delighted to announce our partnership with exciting new fuels company, LanzaTech, to produce a world-first, low-carbon aviation fuel with at least half the carbon lifecycle footprint of the standard, fossil-fuel alternative, kerosene. Richard Branson described it as “one of the most exciting developments of our lifetime and a major breakthrough in the war on carbon”.

Click here (opens in a new window) to watch a short video of the press announcement about LanzaTech.

Through a unique process of fermentation (much like that of brewing beer), LanzaTech's patented technology uses a microbe to convert waste carbon monoxide (CO) gases from steel mills into ethanol, an alcohol. The alcohol produced is then converted to jet fuel through a second stage process. In this way, gases from industrial steel production that would otherwise be flared off into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, are recycled instead.

Take a look here (opens in a new window) to see an animation of the LanzaTech process.

LanzaTech estimates that its process can apply to 65% of the world's steel mills, offering the potential for the fuel to be rolled out for worldwide commercial use. We also hope that the technology could be retrofitted to European facilities including the UK, as well as other facilities worldwide, enabling us to uplift a significant proportion of low-carbon fuel across the world. If all these steel mills were converted to produce fuel this way, the process could provide 19% of the whole industry’s current jet fuel demand.

Having been the first commercial airline to launch a biofuel flight, this is an exciting next step, and one of our strategies to achieve our target of 30% carbon reduction per revenue tonne kilometre (RTK) by 2020. RTKs are a measure of carbon efficiency for the passengers and cargo we carry.

We believe this new technology is a major step forward, since the new fuel will be sustainable environmentally (it has lower lifecycle carbon emissions and won't cause deforestation), socially (it won't compete with staple food crops) and economically (crucially it will be available in viable quantities and at a comparable price to conventional jet fuel).

So more recently, it was great to see the LanzaTech fuel top the table on www.RenewableJetFuels.org (opens in a new window), the world’s first online market information service analysing the leading companies set to produce commercial scale renewable fuel for aviation. The site provides in-depth scrutiny of renewable jet fuel supply chain companies, generating over 70 key data points to enable investors, engineers, operators and fuel buyers to compare suppliers on technical performance, economic viability carbon footprint, and overall sustainability.

Behind the scenes, we’re currently working very hard to bring the fuel into use on our aircraft , starting by uplifting fuel in commercial quantities in China in 2014. We’re working closely with a number of industry partners and stakeholders – including Boeing, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), Imperial College London and interested NGOs to ensure that the fuel meets exacting sustainability standards as well as becoming a commercial reality in wider use within the aviation industry.

For more information on how our work on sustainable fuels fits into our Change is in the Air sustainability programme, read our sustainability reports here (opens in a new window).