Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

NZ-born LanzaTech makes biofuel breakthrough for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson says it's a game changer. Photo / AP
Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson says it's a game changer. Photo / AP

New Zealand-born company LanzaTech has made an aviation biofuel breakthrough with partner airline Virgin Atlantic.

The company has produced nearly 5700 litres of low-carbon ethanol produced from waste gases for the airline, founded by Sir Richard Branson.

The company was founded in New Zealand 11 years ago and the parent company remains New Zealand-registered while its headquarters have moved to Illinois.

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic say they will work with Boeing and others in the aviation industry to complete the additional testing that 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 first of its kind proving flight in 2017," LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic say.

The two companies have been working together since 2011.

The Lanzanol fuel was produced in China at the RSB (Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials) certified Shougang demonstration facility. The alcohol-to-jet process was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab with support from the US Department of Energy and with the help of funding from HSBC.

Sir Richard Branson said: "This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry's reliance on oil within our lifetime."

In 2008 Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to flight test bio-fuel flight - derived from coconut and babassu oil.

"We chose to partner with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and the commercial potential of the jet fuel," Branson said.

The airline's understanding of low carbon fuels had developed rapidly over the last decade.

The company, which has received more than $14 million in New Zealand Government funding, shifted much of its previously Auckland-based research and development workforce to Chicago in 2014.

LanzaTech has raised more than US$200m from investors including Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures and the NZ Superannuation Fund, which has invested US$75m. Other investors included Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 fund and Mitsui.

Its technology is based around steel production, which produces waste carbon monoxide (CO) gas, frequently flared to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

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

Other airlines have trialled biofuel made from waste cooking oil, and in the case of Air New Zealand the Jatropha plant.

- NZ Herald

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