A Virgin Atlantic plane has flown from London’s Gatwick airport to Orlando, Florida, using gas derived from industrial waste. The fuel, a blend of traditional jet fuel and industrial waste gas fuel derived from a steel plant in China, could reduce fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% according to some third-party estimates. Lanzatech, the company responsible for developing the waste-fuel derivative, explained that the fuel can be made of many non-petroleum based products, with this particular compound coming from excess carbon monoxide vented at the steel plant.
Air travel accounts for a large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions - and it’s increasing. Using wasted byproducts like carbon monoxide to lessen the petroleum-based portion of the fuel mixture does reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is still burning carbon-based fuels for propulsion energy. For air travel to become sustainable or significantly reduce its environmental impact, non-carbon-based propulsion systems like electric or hydrogen motors could deliver much better potential outcomes. While it is important to utilize waste streams and latent energy stocks like carbon monoxide and other biomass for fuel, could these types of solutions distract transportation companies from deeper systemic change? Could investment in LanzaTech’s fuel mixture be better spent supporting electric or hybrid-electric aeroplane technologies, or are both solutions necessary for a sustainable future?
Read about Norway’s plans to turn air travel electric here.