How LanzaTech's fuel is set to make a difference

Virgin Atlantic recently completed its first flight powered by LanzaTech’s sustainable biofuel. We take a look at what LanzaTech do and how they’re trying to make the world a better, cleaner place…

In this article you will learn:

  • Why LanzaTech was founded
  • How LanzaTech creates its biofuel
  • Why LanzaTech's work is important

LanzaTech is aiming to disrupt the energy industry and how it currently works. CEO Dr Jennifer Holmgren explains: “The technology we’re developing is producing low-cost energy from regional wastes and residues. It has the potential to disrupt our current highly centralised petroleum-based energy system, and by doing so, help us to reduce the lifecycle CO2 emissions of liquid fuels.

“LanzaTech was founded to take advantage of microbial organisms which can take certain carbon-based emissions and use them as a ‘raw material’ for producing sustainable biofuels. Our process converts a wide variety of gases into fuels such as ethanol or jet fuel, and commodity chemicals such as butadiene (used in nylon production) or propylene (used in plastics manufacture).”

But how does it work?

LanzaTech carries out a biological process to produce the chemicals needed to make the biofuel. Dr Holmgren explains: “At the heart of [the process] is a microbe. This is a naturally-occurring organism in the family of acetogens, or gas-fermenting organisms. These organisms are one of the earliest known life forms on this planet; and for their entire lifecycle they use only gases to grow, as opposed to sugars in traditional fermentation.

“As a by-product of this growth, they make ethanol and chemicals, similar to the way that yeast make ethanol or other products. These can then be separated and purified for sale as a constituent in a more sustainable fuel-grade gasoline blend and/or platform chemicals for a range of uses and products.

“Because the process is flexible, we can use very varied feedstocks – from industrial flue gas to gasified biomass wastes and residues, such as biogas from anaerobic digesters. We’ve been operating this process at scale since 2008.”

What will be the impact?

LanzaTech has estimated that their process can be applied to 65 per cent of the world’s steel mills and go on to supply nearly a fifth of the world’s current jet fuel demand. This would equate to an overall lifecycle reduction in greenhouse gases of 50 to 60 per cent, compared to traditional jet fuel.

Dr Holmgren said in 2014: “As one of the fuel producer partners in the Renewable Jet Fuels Initiative, we’re really excited about the potential to be supplying Virgin Atlantic planes with our fuel component in the next five years. That means, if you’re taking a flight out of China in a few years’ time, you might be flying on recycled steel gases!”

In October 2018, Virgin Atlantic successfully completed its first flight using LanzaTech fuel, a flight from Orlando, Floridia, to London Gatwick. Richard Branson was on the tarmac to meet the flight. He said: “Long haul travel is more important than ever for connecting people around the world. And it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re doing that in the most sustainable way possible. Working with LanzaTech will enable us to drastically reduce our carbon emissions and at the same time, help support UK industry. That’s why we’re so excited to showcase this fuel on its first commercial flight as we plan for the world’s first full scale jet fuel plant using this amazing new technology.”

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