British Airways wants to fly garbage-powered planes from NYC to London in 2017

British Airways plane
CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia

While most land-based transportation can be electrified and powered be clean energy, things are a little more complicated with airplanes. Until Elon Musk decides to build the supersonic electric plane with vertical take off that he said he knew how to make 5 years ago, most planes will need liquid fuel with a high energy-density. Right now, that means fossil fuels, but what if we could create jet fuel from sources that are at least carbon neutral?

I've always thought that on the ground, electric motors and batteries (maybe hypercapacitors someday) would win, but that in the air, advanced biofuels would be winners. I expected algae or maybe fast-growing switchgrass to be the main feedstocks, but there's another plentiful source of energy that is mostly overlooked...

British Airways has partnered with Washington, D.C.-based Solena Fuels to make 50,000 metric tons of jet fuel per year from... municipal solid waste. Yep, garbage.

This will be the first time that trash is turned - if all goes well - into a drop-in jet fuel.

Doc Brown would be proud!

Back to the Future/Screen capture

Solena uses the gasification-Fischer-Tropsch process and has invested big bucks ($600 million) into the technology

After the trash is cleaned of hazardous and recyclable materials, it will be combusted in a low-oxygen environment that produces a synthesis gas of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a process known as gasification:

"What we get from that is a very pure, high-quality fuel," said Counsell, at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference in National Harbor, Md., Wednesday. Turning trash into fuel yields twice the energy that incinerating the waste for electricity would provide, he added. Recent life-cycle analyses indicate that the fuel could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95 percent compared to fossil fuels, said Counsell. This doesn't include the avoided methane emissions -- a gas with 30 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide -- that result from trash decomposing in a landfill.

Who knew trash could be this useful? Don't use that as an excuse to produce more waste, though, it's not like there's a shortage... (except maybe in Norway)

If everything goes according to plan, British Airways could be able to fuel flights from London to New York with trash-based-fuel in 2017.

Flickr/ceegee-ceegee/CC BY 2.0

Via EENews, Gizmodo

Tags: Airplanes | Air Travel | Biofuels


New to TreeHugger?

treehugger on phone
treehugger slideshows