A bacteria found in the gut of a rabbit is going to help Virgin Atlantic, an airline founded by the iconic serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson, fly a 747 jet from Orlando, Florida, to London, England in an eco-friendly way.
The bacteria, identified by biotech start-up LanzaTech, helps turn factory carbon emissions, a.k.a. pollution, into ethanol, which can then be blended with car gasoline or converted into a liquid fuel that is blended into conventional jet fuel. The goal in both cases is to reduce the amount of petroleum-based fuel used by planes and cars.
Virgin Atlantic, the airline arm of the Virgin empire founded by Branson, has been working with LanzaTech since 2011. The goal of the partnership was to produce jet fuel made from carbon waste gases.
"Now I'm excited to reveal that Virgin Atlantic's low carbon fuel partnership with LanzaTech has taken a vital step forward. This October we will make history by using LanzaTech's innovative new sustainable aviation fuel in a commercial flight for the first time," Branson writes in a post on his blog published Thursday.
So exciting! @VirginAtlantic & @LanzaTech are going to make aviation history this October by using groundbreaking new low carbon jet fuel, made by recycling waste carbon gases, in a commercial flight for the first time
"The fuel will be used in one of our much-loved 747s on a flight from Orlando to London Gatwick, demonstrating the art of the possible, and taking a landmark leap towards making this ground-breaking new low carbon technology a mainstream reality," says Branson, who sold a 31 percent stake of Virgin Atlantic to Air France-KLM for 220 million pounds in 2017.
For LanzaTech, having its jet fuel used in a Virgin Atlantic flight is a significant milestone.
"Doing a first commercial flight with Virgin Atlantic will help spread the message that carbon reuse, CCU, is not just a lab curiosity or a fantasy but rather a sensible path to economically reducing carbon emissions," Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech tells CNBC Make It. "We also hope that by sharing a success story, we can help seed and grow an entire CCU industry. A rising tide carries all ships."
While October's first flight is a critical demonstration of the viability of LanzaTech's technology, it's also only a first step, as far as Branson sees.
"The future potential of this technology is enormous," Branson says. "This exciting first flight is all about showing we're ready for business. We are working with LanzaTech to turn this new fuel into a day-to-day reality, and want to secure the world's first carbon capture and utilization (CCU) commercial jet fuel production facility in the U.K."
It took from 2011, when LanzaTech partnered with Virgin Atlantic, to 2018 to get a plane in the air powered with fuel made by LanzaTech. "Commercializing a new aviation fuel takes a lot of effort and time as there are so many checks and balances," says Holmgren.
Early testing is promising, though. The carbon footprint of the jet fuel made with LanzaTech's technology shows a 70 percent reduction in carbon compared with jet fuel made from fossil fuel, Holmgren tells CNBC Make It.
.@ VirginAtlantichave joined forces with @ lanzatechto help create a carbon smart future. Here's how:
It's economical too. "It will cost the same as the lowest cost alternative jet fuel available today. We hope to compete with the price of kerosene in the future," Holmgren says.
Making a product that can make money is critical for LanzaTech and the industry at large. "For decades the world has said that no one can make CCU fuels or chemicals economically. We beg to differ and we are now showing you can do CCU and you can make money. If we are to drive to a low carbon economy, we need economic sustainability as well," Holmgren tells CNBC Make It.