British Airways says it will operate transatlantic flights partially powered by sustainable fuels as early as next year.
BA will invest in a new US plant to be built in Georgia by LanzaJet producing commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), made from ethanol derived from agricultural and other waste.
The airline said the fuel would create 70% less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel.
However, it is likely to only provide a tiny fraction of BA’s overall fuel needs at first. SAF can be used to substitute for up to 50% of conventional jet fuel but so far demonstration flights – such as one conducted in 2018 by Virgin Atlantic with LanzaTech (from which LanzaJet was spun off) – have blended only about 5% of the greener fuel.
BA’s owner, IAG, which has pledged to invest almost £300m in SAF as part of its pledge to decarbonise by 2050, said it would investigate building a refinery with LanzaTech in the UK, as well as a waste-to-fuel plant in partnership with Velocys.
The announcement came as the Dutch airline KLM claimed a world first in using sustainable synthetic kerosene on a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Madrid. Shell made 500 litres – just over 5% of the flight’s overall fuel burn – synthesised from CO2 and water using renewable energy sources.
Pieter Elbers, the chief executive of KLM, said: “The transition from fossil fuel to sustainable alternatives is one of the largest challenges in aviation. This first flight on synthetic kerosene shows that it is possible in practice and that we can move forward.”
BA said it expects the LanzaJet fuel to “be available to power a number of its flights by the end of 2022”. Its chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: “Following the successful startup of the Georgia plant, we hope to then deploy the technology and SAF production capacity in the UK.”
But he added: “We need government support to drive decarbonisation and accelerate the realisation of this vision.”
BA and LanzaTech are part of the Jet Zero Council, launched to some fanfare by Boris Johnson last year with an ambitious – if technically unfeasible – challenge to built a zero-emission long-haul jet.
The government has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown after the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, last week rebuffed accusations of inaction, telling the Commons that the council had met twice already. Shapps has now admitted it only met once, on the day it was launched last July.
Mike Kane, the shadow aviation minister, said: “The transport secretary claimed the government’s Jet Zero Council was a ‘huge step forward in making change’, so it’s disappointing to say the least that he doesn’t know the most basic details of its work.
“If ministers are serious about achieving sustainability in aviation and tackling the climate crisis, they need to focus on making real progress, not just paying lip service.”