Virgin Atlantic has claimed a breakthrough in low-carbon aviation with the development of a fuel it suggests will have half the carbon footprint of standard jet fuel.
The fuel is produced from reprocessed waste gases from industrial steel production. It has been developed in partnership with energy company LanzaTech.
The gases are captured, fermented and chemically converted for use as a jet fuel using Swedish Biofuels technology. The waste gases would normally be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Virgin Atlantic plans to operate flights using the fuel on routes from Shanghai and Delhi to Heathrow within two to three years.
The fuel will be produced in China and India. The technology is currently being tested in New Zealand. A demonstration facility is due to be commissioned in Shanghai this year and the first commercial operation should begin in China by 2014.
LanzaTech suggests the process could be applied to 65 % of the world’s steel mills, allowing the fuel to be developed for worldwide commercial use. The company believes the process could also apply to metals processing and chemical industries.
Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson, said: "This is a major step towards radically reducing our carbon footprint.
"With oil running out, it is important that new fuel solutions are sustainable, and with the steel industry alone able to deliver over 15 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, the potential is very exciting. This new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel."
Virgin Atlantic will be the first airline to use the fuel and will work with LanzaTech, Boeing and Swedish Biofuels towards achieving the technical approval required. A ‘demo’ flight with the new fuel is planned in 12-18 months.