Turning Carbon Capture Into Fuel: Developing The Perfect Sustainable Jet Fuel



Virgin Atlantic have been working in partnership with LanzaTech to develop a new, sustainable aviation fuel. LanzaTech's novel approach uses waste-gas, carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and recycles waste carbon monoxide (CO) gases from heavy industries to make ethanol which can be converted into jet fuel with 70% lower life cycle emissions.

LanzaTech’s technology captures carbon-rich waste industrial gases which would otherwise have been flared off into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, and uses a microbe-based process to create ethanol. This can then be used for a variety of purposes, including as jet fuel.

Recycling waste carbon streams is an effective way to keep fossil resources in the ground as well as provides a plentiful source which allows a comparable price point to current fossil jet fuel - crucial if a biofuel is to be considered a long-term solution to reducing carbon emissions. Detailed life cycle analyses have shown that the process delivers jet fuel with at least 70% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions relative to conventional fossil jet fuel. It also has fewer food or land competition issues than other ‘biofuels’ on the market.

LanzaTech has made significant advances in scaling up its technology and is now tantalizingly close to its first commercial plant. In order to bring this technology to the UK, Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech are calling on the UK government to give it a fighting chance. They demonstrated the 'art of the possible' in the first ever commercial flight from Orlando to Gatwick, which flew in October 2018, and used the event to call on the government for support. To make a commercially affordable fuel a reality, and support the development of jet fuel plants in the UK, CCU technologies like this need to be included in the existing incentive scheme (the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation) to bring production costs more in line with that of ground transport fuels. The ultimate goal is to build commercial jet fuel plants using LanzaTech’s technology to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines. As a UK based company, we hope the first plant would be based in the UK, but there are already options in the US and China too. With the right support, LanzaTech could build 3 plants in the UK by 2025, producing enough fuel (>330T) to power all Virgin Atlantic flights out of the UK at a 50:50 mix each year.

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic predict they could save up to 1million tonnes of carbon annually by 2025, whilst also supporting UK industry and achieving a range of other benefits. As a drop-in jet fuel is produced, it can be used without any changes to aviation infrastructure. The jet fuel produced is designed to be completely fungible with regular fossil kerosene, so that the same fuel systems and aircraft can be used – essential in the aviation industry where the infrastructure is shared across industry stakeholders and changes to it would involve insurmountable complexities and £billions in spend.


Virgin Atlantic’s sustainability plan is called “Change is in the Air” because the company believes that focusing on sustainability is changing things for the better. Virgin Atlantic recognizes that fuel savings doesn’t begin and end with the fuel itself; watching onboard weight, optimizing aircraft cleaning and maintenance, and advising pilots how to fly more efficiently are all a part of Virgin’s plan to reduce its fuel consumption by 30 per cent by 2020.

Virgin also focuses on reducing food and other waste on board, especially for long-haul flights. The airline has developed paper wrap to replace the plastic wrapping of in-air products, collects unused items from amenities kits to reuse, and donates surplus blankets to charity. Nearly all of the packaging and products Virgin Atlantic offers is now recyclable in some way – even the foam from headsets are being collected to surface an equestrian centre.