HSBC to join Virgin Atlantic, LanzaTech partnership for low carbon jet fuel

October 24, 2014 |

In the UK, Virgin Atlantic has announced that the UK’s largest bank, HSBC, is joining its partnership with LanzaTech in preparation for a world-first flight using a ground-breaking low carbon fuel.

LanzaTech is developing a revolutionary fuel that sees waste gases from industrial steel production being captured, fermented and then chemically converted for use as jet fuel. LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic have been working together for three years on the fuel’s development, but the addition of HSBC’s vital support to the partnership, along with Boeing and other technical partners, means a proving flight of the new technology will take place within the next year.

The support of HSBC will allow production of this innovative new fuel to move from sample size to demo scale – and will produce a sufficient amount of fuel to conduct the proving flight. These are vital steps in the process to achieve American Society for Testing and Materials certification of the alcohol to jet production pathway. ASTM certification is a significant step towards commercialization of LanzaTech’s sustainable fuel solution, which is expected to have half the carbon footprint of petroleum jet.

LanzaTech estimates that its process can apply to 65 % of the world’s steel mills, allowing the fuel to be scaled up for worldwide use. It will be a commercially viable option for airlines as it is a ‘drop in’ fuel, requiring no modifications to engine or aircraft technology, and will be produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel.

The LanzaTech view

LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren told the Digest: “It’s pretty exciting to see HSBC’s commitment to a low carbon future.  The other news is that we are going to do a “proving” flight next year.  This work is, of course, in collaboration with Boeing and GE; we previously announced those partners. This flight is about collecting data to complete the ASTM certification of alcohol to jet. Virgin believes this is an important step in creating a low carbon future.  HSBC agrees.  Now – we go make it happen.

“steel mills once were there to make the steel that goes into making the plane wing- now they will also be able to make the fuel that goes in that wing.  Talk about changing the way people thing about how we source energy and where we source energy.  It really is all about feedstock diversity and new sustainable sources.

“Global energy demand will double over the next 50 years while the need to reduce carbon emissions continues to increase; meanwhile over 1 Billion people don’t have access to energy.  Success will come from diversification of sources of energy.  Our ability to recycle carbon from a  steel mill decreases overall emissions and brings more carbon into the fuel pool.”

“We like to think we are helping build a circular economy.  We like to think we are helping people rethink carbon capture and sequestration/reuse.  We like to think that if we are successful we will make a difference.

Reaction from stakeholders

The President of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson, said: “Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to demonstrate the potential of a bio-fuel flight back in 2008 and today we are leading the way again as we work towards cleaner, more sustainable air travel. With the support of HSBC, we are investing in the long term, sustainable future of air travel and we are excited about the carbon savings that this technology could help us to achieve, especially when combined with our super fuel efficient new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.”

Sir Richard was speaking at the launch event of Virgin Atlantic’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, an aircraft which uses over 20 per cent less fuel on a per flight basis than the aircraft it replaces. The Dreamliner, which will soon make up 40 per cent of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet, will join the LanzaTech fuel solution as a major contributor towards the airline’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 per cent per revenue tonne km between 2007 and 2020.

Simon Martin, Global Head of Sustainability for HSBC, said: “We want to support really innovative projects that accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy. This partnership reflects our commitment to work with suppliers and customers alike to help address climate change, creating an environment in which businesses can be sustainable in the long term.”

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