British Airways plans to run planes on alcohol - here’s how it works

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 4:01 pm
British Airways plans to run planes on alcohol - here’s how it works (Photo: Shutterstock)

British Airways (BA) claims it will power future flights with sustainable aviation fuel produced using ethanol as early as next year.

The fuel will deliver a reduction of more than 70 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fossil jet fuel, the airline said.

The UK based airline will invest in a new US plant to be built in Georgia by LanazaJet, in order to produce commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

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How does the fuel work?

The sustainable aviation fuel is produced via the Lanzajet Alcohol to Jet (ATJ) process

This process can use any source of sustainable ethanol, including but not limited to, ethanol made from non-edible agricultural residues, such as wheat straw and recycled pollution.

The plant in Georgia, which will begin construction this year, will convert the sustainable ethanol (a chemical compound widely blended with petrol to reduce its carbon intensity) into aviation fuel.

The Lanza Jet fuel is expected to be available to power a number of flights by the end of 2022, the airline said. BA then hopes to deploy the SAF production capacity in the UK, dependent on government support to “drive decarbonisation”.

The fuel, however, is likely to only provide a tiny fraction of BA’s overall fuel needs in the beginning. SAF can be used as a substitute for up to 50 per cent of conventional jet fuel.

So far on demonstration flights, including one in 2018 by airline company Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech, the blend of SAF has only been about five per cent.

‘Sustainable fuel is crucial’

The news comes as Dutch airline KLM claimed to have fuelled the first commercial flight with sustainable synthetic kerosene, on a journey from Amsterdam to Madrid.

The flight had 500 litres of a Shell made synthetic kerosene, which was just over five per cent of the flight’s overall fuel burn.

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ CEO, said: “Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel is crucial to decarbonising the aviation industry and this partnership with LanzaJet shows the progress British Airways is making as we continue on our journey to net zero.

“Following the successful start-up of the Georgia plant, we hope to then deploy the technology and SAF production capacity in the UK. The UK 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 decarbonisation and accelerate the realisation of this vision.”