The power of innovation and collaboration was on full display as the first-ever transatlantic, commercial flight using fuel produced from waste gases captured at a steel plant flew from Orlando, FL to London’s Gatwick airport last fall. The flight was the result of a collaboration between Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech, with support from their partner Boeing.

It was an incredible bookend to a big year for carbon capture technology that started with the landmark passage of the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and continued with announcements of milestones reached for existing projects, new initiatives to support deployment, and new projects planned in the US and across the world.

GPI Vice President Brad Crabtree attended the Orlando take-off event as a representative of the Carbon Capture Coalition, which GPI co-directs with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and of which LanzaTech is a member.

In a press release, the Chicago-based LanzaTech provided a brief overview of how the fuel was developed:

“LanzaTech produces next generation ‘advanced’ fuels by recycling waste industrial gases like those produced from steel making and other heavy industrial processes. LanzaTech takes these waste, carbon-rich gases to first make ethanol. The ethanol can be used for a range of low carbon products, including jet fuel. The innovative alcohol-to-jet process used to make the fuel in this flight was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab and the US Department of Energy.”

Large-scale deployment of this process would be a game changer for the aviation industry. As Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson wrote, “There is no immediate replacement for long haul travel – and this technology is ready now and would have a significant impact on our carbon footprint.” He further stated that this is “a great opportunity for UK industry as it supports our steel mills while also decarbonising them.”

While this was the first commercial flight to use such fuel, LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren shared in an interview with CleanTechnica that the company views the technology as scalable. LanzaTech estimates their technology could be applied to 65 percent of steel mills in the world, which would result in the production of “approximately 30 billion gallons of ethanol per year, which could be converted into 15 billion gallons of jet fuel.” Holmgren also said that, in addition to LanzaTech’s commercial facility that came online in May 2018, the company has funding or partial-funding for five ethanol facilities in the US and several other countries that would use a variety of waste feedstocks.

This application of carbon capture provides a compelling example and further evidence of the importance of carbon capture technology to decarbonize a broad range of industries while creating economic value and jobs, from cement production to electric power.

In a statement on behalf of the coalition, Crabtree congratulated LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic for “achieving this important and inspiring milestone” and said that it “exemplifies the extraordinary potential before us as entrepreneurs and innovators develop new ways to capture and add economic value to carbon, while reducing emissions and creating jobs in the process.” Crabtree further stated:

The Carbon Capture Coalition worked with LanzaTech and members of the Senate earlier this year to ensure that the FUTURE Act makes the capture and utilization of carbon monoxide, and not just carbon dioxide, eligible for the 45Q tax credit. The pathway to carbon utilization that LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic are pioneering—converting industrial carbon monoxide emissions into ethanol and ultimately low-carbon jet fuel—provides a powerful example of the kind of innovation that the newly-reformed federal 45Q tax credit and other complementary legislation, such as the USE IT Act, are intended to help bring to commercial scale in the marketplace.

While significant milestones were reached in 2018, there remains a need to increase support for deployment of carbon capture projects and infrastructure in the US. Looking ahead to the new year, the Carbon Capture Coalition is looking forward to working with members of Congress and advocating for inclusion of carbon capture and CO2 pipelines in infrastructure legislation, enactment of additional financial incentives to complement 45Q in financing carbon capture projects, and robust federal funding to advance critical research, development, demonstration and deployment of next generation carbon capture and utilization technologies.

Growing bipartisan support at the state and federal level for carbon capture, along with leading examples of public and private sector partnership such as the groundbreaking Virgin Atlantic flight, show that with the right support these critical technologies can take off and bring about significant, transformational benefits.

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