New Zealand clean-tech firm LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic have received an award for their partnership commercialising low-carbon aviation biofuels.

The two firms took out the business initiative category in the 2013 Observer Ethical Awards, which celebrate projects, campaigns and ideas "that make sustainable change a reality".

Since 2005 LanzaTech has been developing a process that converts industrial waste gases into biofuel, which the company says offers the potential to provide 19 per cent of the world's jet fuel demand.

It's a sizeable market, with airlines around the world having a combined fuel bill of US$210 billion last year, according to the International Air Transport Association.


LanzaTech said its jet fuel would also offer a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in overall greenhouse gases compared with traditional fuel.

In 2011 the New Zealand company partnered with Swedish Biofuels to develop the world's first low-carbon jet fuel and at that time Virgin Atlantic said it planned to begin using biofuel by this year.

LanzaTech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren said it was a great honour to be recognised for its partnership with the airline.

"The coming global availability of low carbon jet fuel made from waste materials will enable more sustainable air travel, a key goal of Virgin Atlantic and the entire aviation industry," said Holmgren.

LanzaTech said the award was timely, coming as the aviation industry gathered in France for the Paris Air Show, at which sustainable fuels were a major focus. In 2011 Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said biofuels had the potential to turn one of the world's dirtiest industries - aviation - into one of the cleanest.