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British Airways inks deal with sustainable jet fuel startup LanzaJet

Fleet of Boeing 747 planes of British Airways standing on the apron of London Heathrow airport. The British flag, which is red, white and blue, is on the tail of the planes.

Fleet of Boeing 747 planes of British Airways standing on the apron of London Heathrow airport. Photo by Ondrej Zabransky on Shutterstock.

British Airways has signed a deal with U.S. sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) firm LanzaJet that will see jet fuel converted from wheat chaff and other agricultural residues supplied to the airline from next year.

The airline announced last week it has invested an undisclosed sum in a commercial-scale SAF production plant planned by LanzaJet in the southern U.S., joining Japanese trading house Mitsui and Canadian oil and gas major Suncor Energy as a major investor in the renewable jet fuel start-up.

Under the terms of the deal, LanzaJet will start supplying jet fuel made from a plant in Georgia to British Airways from 2022, while also undertaking preliminary planning for a potential commercial sustainable aviation facility for British Airways in the U.K.

At the Georgia plant, ethanol from agricultural residue — such as wheat straw and "recycled pollution" — will be converted into jet fuel through a chemical process, according to the partners, resulting in a product that produces 70 percent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional jet engine fuel, they said.

Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel is crucial to decarbonizing the aviation industry.

The agreement marks the second major deal British Airways has made with a renewable jet fuel company, coming six months after the firm signed a SAF agreement with British company Velocys.

Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways, said SAFs would be critical to decarbonizing the carbon-intensive aviation sector and meeting the company's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

"Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel is crucial to decarbonizing the aviation industry and this partnership with LanzaJet shows the progress British Airways is making as we continue on our journey to net zero," he said. "Following the successful start-up of the Georgia plant, we hope to then deploy the technology and SAF production capacity in the U.K."

Advocates argue that SAFs offer the fastest way to cut emissions across the aviation sector, while also providing a means of mobilizing investment in the supply chain and creating jobs as part of a green economy.

The solution enjoys growing support from the aviation sector. Just three weeks ago, airline manufacturer Boeing revealed it aims to produce planes capable of flying on 100 percent SAF by the end of the decade and last year major players across the aviation supply chain called on U.K. and EU governments to introduce a sustainable aviation fuel mandate from 2025 that would require a minimum share of SAF to be blended into traditional jet fuel. 

However, critics of SAFs have warned that high costs and limited capacity, as well as concerns over the availability of sustainable feedstocks for producing greener fuels, mean jet biofuels risk becoming a distraction from the need to curb demand for flights and step up investment in zero emission technologies, such as electric and fuel cell aircraft.

Critics of SAFs have warned that jet biofuels risk becoming a distraction from the need to curb demand for flights and step up investment in zero emission technologies.

But Doyle urged the government to help facilitate the launch of commercial-scale SAF production facilities in the U.K. "The U.K. has the experience and resources needed to become a global leader in the deployment of such sustainable aviation fuel production facilities, and we need government support to drive decarbonization and accelerate the realization of this vision," he said.

LanzaJet, which spun-off from U.S. synthetic fuel manufacturer LanzaTech last summer, said it hoped to build one or more of the four large-scale SAF plants it has planned in the U.K. and urged the government to support the growth of the sector.

"Low-cost, sustainable fuel options are critical for the future of the aviation sector and the LanzaJet process offers the most flexible feedstock solution at scale, recycling wastes and residues into SAF that allows us to keep fossil jet fuel in the ground," said Jimmy Samartzis, chief executive of LanzaJet. "British Airways has long been a champion of waste to fuels pathways especially with the U.K. government. With the right support for waste-based fuels, the U.K. would be an ideal location for commercial scale LanzaJet plants. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with BA and the U.K. government in making this a reality, and to continuing our support of bringing the Prime Minister's Jet Zero vision to life." 

Both British Airways and LanzaTech are part of the government's Jet Zero Council, which aims to bring ministers and industry together to accelerate the development of technologies and solutions that can drive a net zero emission aviation sector.

The British Airways deal is LanzaJet's third offtake agreement, with the company already having secured deals for its fuel with Suncor Energy and Japanese airline All Nippon Airways.

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