The Virgin Atlantic Airlines' flight from Orlando to London using a Boeing 747 will usher in a new era for low-carbon aviation that has been years in the making.
Through a combination of chemistry, biotechnology, engineering and catalysis, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and its industrial partner LanzaTech have shown the world that carbon can be recycled and used for commercial flight.
LanzaTech, a Chicago-based company, developed a unique carbon recycling technology that operates similar to traditional fermentation but instead of using sugars and yeast to make alcohol, waste carbon-rich gases, such as those found at industrial manufacturing sites, are converted by bacteria to fuels and chemicals, such as ethanol.
The catalyst removes oxygen from the ethanol in the form of water, and then combines the remaining hydrocarbon molecules to form chains large enough for jet fuel without forming aromatics that lead to soot when burned.
DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office has been instrumental in supporting the technology development.
LanzaTech's Freedom Pines site is the location of a planned facility which would be able to convert sustainable ethanol to millions of gallons per year of low carbon jet and diesel fuels.