Virgin Atlantic plans to fly on biofuels

Virgin Atlantic, the trans-Atlantic carrier founded by The UK's Sir Richard Branson, hopes to soon introduce commercial flights using biofuels.

 
PNNL is working with LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic Airlines on aviation biofuels.
Courtesy of Ikarasawa/Flickr
 

The fuel has been developed by the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

PNNL has been working with industry partner, LanzaTech, to convert alcohols derived from captured carbon monoxide, a byproduct in the production of steel, into synthetic paraffinic kerosene, a non-fossil-based jet fuel.

The technology not only provides a viable source of sustainable jet fuel but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. PNNL has licensed its catalytic conversion process to LanzaTech.

During the second stage of their process, ethanol is run through a PNNL-developed catalyst that converts ethanol to jet fuel by removing the oxygen and combining hydrocarbons.

To control the reactions, PNNL borrowed technology it developed to convert methanol to gasoline and created a new, specialised catalyst.

The catalyst first removes water from the ethanol, leaving behind ethylene. The small ethylene hydrocarbons are then combined to form hydrocarbon chains large enough for jet fuel without forming aromatics that lead to sooting when burned.

The fuel meets all the specifications required for use in commercial aviation - not an easy thing to do.