MechChem Africa

Innovators in the fields of steel and aviation reveal how a low-carbon jet fuel made with steel process gases could revolutionise air travel.

In the future, aviation could be being fuelled by old-school technology: 4-billion years old to be precise. Scientists are now creating cutting-edge jet fuel with microbes that transform carbon to ethanol in a process almost as old as the Earth itself.

Low Carbon jet fue Lanzatech Lab

The ethanol is converted to a low-carbon, environmentally friendlier aviation fuel that could, one day, fulfil around one-fifth of the airline industry’s global requirements.

Leading this charge is clean tech company LanzaTech, which will supply Virgin Atlantic with its fuel if a test flight proposed for this year proves successful.

But this collaboration could never have got off the ground without LanzaTech first forging partnerships with steel companies, including China Baowu Steel Group in Shanghai and Shougang Steel near Beijing. For LanzaTech’s fuel, called Lanzanol, is produced in a process that recycles carbon-rich gases from steel mills to create the ethanol base of its fuel.

Virgin Atlantic founder, Richard Branson says: “This is a real game-changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry’s reliance on oil within our lifetime. Our understanding of low-carbon fuels has developed rapidly over the last decade, and we are closer than ever before to bringing a sustainable product to the market for commercial use by Virgin Atlantic and other global airlines.”

LanzaTech experts reckon that the Lanzanol fuel formula offers a 50-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional petroleum gasoline. Some 150-million t of CO2 emissions could be cut worldwide if steel production process gases alone were used to manufacture the ethanol.

“We can now imagine a world where a steel mill can not only produce the steel for the components of the plane, but also recycle its gases to produce the fuel that powers the aircraft,” adds LanzaTech CEO, Jennifer Holmgren.

The China Baowu Steel Group-Lanzatech partnership was able to produce more than 450 000 ℓ of Lanzanol per year from a single site in Shanghai, China, which could then be converted to make 225 000 litres of jet fuel. Even this experimental demonstration site was able to produce enough fuel for an aircraft to make the trip from Shanghai to London, with greater output expected from commercial production installations.

Indeed, the commercial potential seems huge. LanzaTech experts calculate they could ‘retrofit’ the technique to around two-thirds of all the steel plants on the planet.

Click to download and read pdf.

Referencestories.worldsteel.org/

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