Waste gases emitted by blast furnaces, coke ovens and BOF (basic oxygen furnace) operations can now be converted into low-cost ethanol and high-value chemicals.  The new fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be oxidized further to carbon dioxide and released into the atmosphere.

Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airline announced the development of a low-carbon, synthetic jet fuel kerosene produced from industrial waste gases with half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative in partnership with New Zealand’s LanzaTech and Swedish Biofuels of Stockholm.

Virgin Atlantic will be the first airline to use the new fuel and will cooperate with LanzaTech, Swedish Biofuels and U.S. Boeing towards achieving the technical approval required for using new fuel types in commercial aircraft. A demo flight with the new fuel is planned in 12-18 months, with commercialization targeted for 2014.

LanzaTech Flow Chart. Click image for the largest view.

The new process starts with LanzaTech technology to capture and ferment waste gases from industrial steel production into ethanol. Then Swedish Biofuels technology chemically converts the resulting ethanol into a synthetic jet fuel.

LanzaTech’s proprietary gas fermentation technology converts the carbon monoxide-containing waste gases into low-cost ethanol and high-value chemicals, providing a commercially scalable addition to traditional ethanol production.

The carbon monoxide containing gas enters the process at the bottom of a LanzaTech bioreactor, and is dispersed into a liquid medium where it is consumed by LanzaTech’s proprietary microbes as the reactor contents move upward in the reactor vessel. The net product is withdrawn and sent to the product recovery section.

Swedish Biofuels has developed technology for the production of alternative aviation fuels and has demonstrated this technology under a project funded by the US Government Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). During the demonstration project Swedish Biofuels used its technology in the production of fully synthetic, 100% biological aviation fuel from a wide variety of non-food biological feedstocks.

The recovery from the LanzaTech reactor is then converted by Swedish Biofuels technology chemical synthesis into a mixture of C4-C20 hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are subsequently separated into biological gasoline, kerosene and diesel by rectification.

The technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand, a larger demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year, and the first commercial operation will be in place in China by 2014.  Virgin Atlantic believes that the implementation will take the airline well beyond its pledge of a 30% carbon reduction per passenger km by 2020.

The key in the project is the combining of leading technologies with a bit of leadership from Virgin Atlantic.  LanzaTech, just a couple of months back let slip they had a deal with Harsco, a major worldwide steel industry servicing company.

The combining of the technologies might be a Virgin Atlantic role, but LanzaTech has a first rate track into the world’s industrial sources with Harsco.   The steel industry can only smile at reducing their emissions as well as find the costly gas oxidation has become free or someday a revenue generator.

It’s a synergy, and one that looks a lot like it will go.  After all, the incredible personality leading Virgin Atlantic, Mr. Branson isn’t one to be denied and he seems to assess risk amazingly well.

This could be a major first step in more firms looking for those synergies to cut costs and gain new revenue sources.  There’s energy to be had all around us we can use when we figure out how.  Lots of congratulations to a very long list this time.


6 Comments so far

  1. Telefunkin on October 14, 2011 4:36 AM

    The tie-up between steel industry, chemical processing company and aviation company is laudible. However, typical integrated steel plants collect and re-use their steelmaking exhaust gases to fuel other downstream processes (e.g. the reheating furnaces in rolling mills), and only occasional excesses are likley to be ‘flared’. Therefore, why would creating aviation fuel be more atractive than this, or even generating electricity? Virgin might be able to buy non-oil-based aviatin fuel, but unless some true “waste” is avoided then no carbon will be saved. All green hype – no substance?

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  3. Lauren Hall on November 7, 2011 4:32 PM

    Great article. Its important for this type of research into recycling waste gases to continue if we are going to keep our carbon footprint down. Hopefully this process can be standardised and distributed across all modes of transport in the future.

  4. Adelard Gasana on December 25, 2011 5:55 PM

    This can be one of those technologies that revolutionize the was we think about fuel.

  5. ranjith on August 4, 2012 9:13 AM

    i like this and i want to know that, is there gas which can be used for combustion process in ic engines and that gas should be generated from scrap. plz iam trying for alternating fuels, help me if u wish

  6. surya on March 9, 2013 2:10 PM

    i agree with you,but are this gases be can be used in other ways apart from automobile.i want to use in aviation

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