Kiwi-founded firm turns waste gas into jet fuel

LanzaTech staff in the company's Auckland laboratory.
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LanzaTech staff in the company's Auckland laboratory.

A New Zealand-founded company has made a biofuel breakthrough, turning waste gas from steel mills into jet fuel.

Its low-carbon fuel project, in partnership with Virgin Atlantic, has produced 1500 US gallons of jet fuel, or 5678 litres.

Since 2011 the two firms have been working to produce the world's first jet fuel derived from waste industrial gases from steel mills via a fermentation process. 

The LanzaTech process involves capturing carbon from the waste gas from steel mills via fermentation to ethanol, which is recovered to produce ethanol feedstock for a variety of products, including aviation fuel.

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Each gallon of ethanol is converted to produce half-a-gallon of aviation fuel.

The process could be used to capture and recycle around a third of the carbon that steel facilities would otherwise release into the atmosphere.

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic are now set to continue to work with Boeing to complete the additional testing aircraft and engine manufacturers require before approving the fuel for first use in a commercial aircraft.  Assuming all initial approvals are achieved, the innovative LanzaTech jet fuel could be used in a proving flight in 2017. 

The data collected will enable the partnership to seek approval to use the fuel on routine commercial flights.  This would also help pave the way for LanzaTech to fund and build their first commercial jet fuel plant to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines. 

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said it was a "game-changer" for aviation.  "This could significantly reduce the industry's reliance on oil within our lifetime. Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to test a biofuel flight and continues to be a leader in sustainable aviation. 

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"We chose to partner with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and the commercial potential of the jet fuel.  Our understanding of low-carbon fuels has developed rapidly over the last decade, and we are closer than ever before to bringing a sustainable product to the market for commercial use by Virgin Atlantic and other global airlines."

LanzaTech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren said: "We can now truly imagine a world where a steel mill can not only produce the steel for the components of the plane but also recycle its gases to produce the fuel that powers the aircraft.  This programme illustrates that such breakthroughs are only possible through collaboration.  In this case, it is government, laboratories, NGOs, and industry coming together to disrupt our current global carbon trajectory.

"We look forward to working with colleagues past, present and future to make this pioneering new fuel a commercial reality. "

LanzaTech estimates that its process could be retrofitted to 65 per cent of the world's steel mills.

This offers the potential to produce 30 billion gallons of ethanol worldwide, for around 15 billion gallons of jet fuel a year.  This would represent just under 19 per cent of all aviation fuel currently used worldwide a year.

 - Stuff

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