The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Virgin Atlantic Looks to Biofuels to Halve Carbon Emissions on Some Flights

Airline will fly a test flight within 18 months, roll out on long haul routes soon after

2 min read
Virgin Atlantic Looks to Biofuels to Halve Carbon Emissions on Some Flights

Virgin Atlantic Airways hopes that within two to three years its planes will start flying some of their long haul routes on a fuel with only half the carbon emissions of standard jet fuel.

Richard Branson's airline announced a partnership with LanzaTech, a company based in New Zealand that takes waste gases from various industrial facilities and converts them into usable fuels. The end result, theoretically, is a jet fuel that Virgin Atlantic will use on routes between London and Delhi, Shanghai, and elsewhere, with half the carbon footprint they have now.

According to Branson, in a press release:

"This partnership to produce a next generation, low-carbon aviation fuel is a major step towards radically reducing our carbon footprint, and we are excited about the savings that this technology could help us achieve....This new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel."

Virgin Atlantic is not the first to try such schemes. Last year, we wrote here about a British Airways plan for a waste-to-jet fuel plant, and many other airlines have started to move toward biofuels as well. Of course, the standard environmental and food security arguments still surround using plants as a fuel source; the Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech plan has the advantage of converting industrial waste gases into fuel, instead of converting food crops into biofuel production. The 50 percent carbon emissions reduction estimated here would far outstrip that of traditional biofuels, as many analyses have suggested little to no emissions savings when corn or other plants are used.

And the need to draw down emissions from air travel is indisputable. Aviation contributes an astonishing 2 to 3 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Any chance to cut this percentage is worth a shot.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Conversation (0)
Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}