PNNL

Richland lab helps Virgin Atlantic fly with jet fuel made from pollution

Virgin Atlantic planned to make the first commercial flight on Tuesday using recycled waste gas from a steel mill. LanzaTech converted the gas to ethanol and then used technology developed in Richland to turn the ethanol into jet fuel.
Virgin Atlantic planned to make the first commercial flight on Tuesday using recycled waste gas from a steel mill. LanzaTech converted the gas to ethanol and then used technology developed in Richland to turn the ethanol into jet fuel. Courtesy Virgin Atlantic

Jet fuel made with carbon-rich pollution was used for the first time in a commercial flight Tuesday, thanks to research done at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

The Virgin Atlantic Airlines’ flight from Orlando to London using a Boeing 747 ushered in a new era for low-carbon aviation, PNNL said.

LanzaTech, a Chicago-based company, relied on PNNL to develop a unique process and proprietary catalyst that allowed it to convert ethanol into a fuel for commercial flights.

It is used in a 50 percent blend with conventional jet fuel.

The ethanol was made by recycling waste carbon emissions, in this case waste gas streams from a steel mill.

“This fuel exceeds the properties of petroleum-based jet fuel in terms of efficiency and burns much cleaner,” said John Holladay, PNNL deputy manager for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Many people thought that recycling waste carbon emissions into jet fuel was not possible, said Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech chief executive officer.

“We have shown that waste carbon is an opportunity, not a liability, and that carbon can be reused to provide sustainable benefits,” she said.

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