Virent/Johnson Matthey tech helps power first 100% SAF transatlantic flight

Virent/Johnson Matthey tech helps power first 100% SAF transatlantic flight

The aviation industry took a significant step towards a more sustainable future, with Virgin Atlantic operating the first drop-in 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) flight by a commercial airline from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The flight was made possible by the BioForming technology invented by Virent and jointly developed for commercialisation by Virent and Johnson Matthey.

Aviation, as one of the contributors to global carbon emissions, is one of the hardest industries to abate. Unlike other flights, which have used a percentage of SAF mixed with conventional jet fuel, the BioForming process enabled this Virgin Atlantic flight to be powered entirely by SAF made from sustainable feedstocks, with no changes to the aircraft or its fuelling system infrastructure.

Maurits van Tol, Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey, said: “The BioForming technology is at the heart of this breakthrough, it’s the key to unlocking a future-ready solution for air travel with much higher levels of decarbonisation.

“This successful Virgin Atlantic flight is a testament to what we can achieve. It is a call to action to accelerate SAF production. At Johnson Matthey, we’re committed to working with partners, such as Virent, driving sustainable innovation and contributing to the global fight against climate change.”

Existing aircraft and fuelling systems require a component in the fuel called ‘aromatics’, which help prevent the fuel from leaking around seals, among other benefits. SAF does not typically contain any aromatics, but the BioForming process has changed this by converting sustainable plant sugars into a bio-aromatic product, BioForm Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK). This can be blended with other types of SAF to increase SAF content up to, and including, a drop-in 100% alternative to conventional jet fuel, which is able to meet the accepted international standard for jet fuel (Jet A). SAK also improves lubricity, viscosity and density, and produces a cleaner burning fuel.

David Kettner, Virent President and General Counsel, said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with forward-thinking companies like Johnson Matthey, Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce and Boeing, and to be a part of another successful demonstration flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel featuring Virent’s cleaner-burning BioForm SAK.

“With Virent’s plant-based fuels technology, this test flight showed that 100% renewable fuel can meet current specifications and work flawlessly in today’s commercial airline engines. Virent will continue to collaborate with future-focused companies, and through this collaboration we can continue to reduce emissions and power a more fuel-efficient airline industry.”