Image credit: Simon Sees, used under Creative Commons license.
British Airways is already working on a goal of running planes on 10% made-from-waste biofuel, Air New Zealand has a goal of using one million barrels of sustainable biofuels by 2013, and there is even evidence to suggest that biofuels burn more efficiently than fossil fuels in jet engines. So it's little wonder that Australian airline Qantas is about to launch a GB£200m (about US$300m) venture to make biofuels from landfill waste. But how far can these developments go?The Guardian reports that Qantas is on the brink of signing a deal for the biofuels plant with US-based bioenergy technology company Solena, the same group that is working on the project with British Airways. The waste feedstocks for the process will most likely come from a mixture of sources ranging from food scraps and other household material such as grass and tree cuttings, to agricultural and industrial waste.
With airlines set to join the European Union emissions trading scheme in January 2012, talks are reportedly underway with other airlines like easyJet, RyanAir and Aer Lingus. It really does seem like a scaling up of made-from-waste aviation fuels is inevitable. The question will be just how much waste can be sourced to keep such programs going. With other waste-to-energy plants competing for feedstocks, a shift to more sustainable agriculture requiring more biomass returned to the soil, and (yeah, I am an optimist) an increasing realization that we can't keep wasting food anyway, there will inevitably come a time when organic "waste" will be seen as an expensive, valuable resource.
I've asked before what happens to waste-to-energy when waste is no more. It looks like Qantas and friends may help us find out.