Virgin Atlantic Wants to Fly Around the World on Second-Hand Carbon

Virgin Atlantic announced that its planes will soon be able to fly from London to China on fuel that carries half the carbon burden.

Virgin Atlantic announced this week that its planes will soon be able to fly from London to China on fuel that produces half the carbon (and presumably half the guilt) of regular jet fuel. This is semi-miraculous news, as flying is one of the most climate-destructive activities that humans engage in: If you’re an affluent city dweller, it’s likely your plane trips wipe out the carbon savings you manage in the rest of your life. And although electric planes exist, they’re small and not likely to grow anytime soon, so the vast majority of planes will continue to burn fuel to propel their mass through the sky.

As a rule, if that fuel is not petroleum-based, it’s plant-based biofuel. But Virgin is moving in a new direction, partnering with the New Zealand-based LanzaTech to harvest the waste gas of steel manufacturers as a feedstock for its fuel. Like most alternative fuel technologies, LanzaTech’s depends on microbes engineered to perform a specific task. These microbes, which are proprietary to the company, feast on carbon monoxide and excrete ethanol. (Another partner, Swedish Biofuels, converts the ethanol into jet fuel.) Fifteen billion gallons of jet fuel could come from the waste gas from the steel industry each year, according to Sir Richard Branson, the president of Virgin Atlantic.

Think of the carbon here like hand-me-down clothes. Steel companies buy shiny new carbon in the form of fossil fuels, and gets all the use they can out of it. They then hand off the used carbon to the airline industry, which gives it a second wear. Although the carbon still enters the atmosphere in the end, the total amount of carbon that humanity has used to go about its business decreases.

The steel industry doesn’t have anything better to do with its carbon, either. From 1990 to 2009, the American steel industry decreased its emission per ton of steel by 35 percent, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, and industry groups say that current steel production processes have reached their maximum carbon efficiency. To tamp down its emissions further, the industry is pursuing strategies like carbon capture, which haven’t had much success so far. So creating a “co-product” like jet fuel from steel production’s waste is exactly the sort of idea the industry is looking to buy into.

The United States has been living for the past few decades as if we had infinite stores of carbon to spend. But by now it’s clear that the balance in our carbon bank account is dwindling. We can keep try to keep living in the manner to which we are accustomed, but to keep up our globe-trotting ways, we need to do more with less. Flying on second-hand carbon seems like a no-brainer.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user xlibber


For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Main in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via ICE / Flickr

The Connors family, two coupes from the United Kingdom, one with a three-month old baby and the other with twin two-year-olds, were on vacation in Canada when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) turned their holiday into a 12-plus day-long nightmare.

On October 3, the family was driving near the U.S.-Canada border in British Columbia when an animal veered into the road, forcing them to make an unexpected detour.

The family accidentally crossed into the United States where they were detained by ICE officials in what would become "the scariest experience of our lives," according to a complaint filed with the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Keep Reading Show less