In a bid to go green, British Airways has announced that come 2014, part of its fleet would be powered by biofuel derived from household trash. The airlines announced Monday that it has inked a deal with U.S. company Solena Group to set up Europe’s “first sustainable jet-fuel plant.”
The plant will be located in east London, and it will take food and plant waste from the city’s homes and businesses and convert it to bio-fuel. The airline said in a statement that the plant “will convert 500,000 tonnes of waste per year into 16 million gallons of green jet fuel through a process that offers lifecycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 95 percent compared to fossil-fuel derived jet kerosene.” The aviation fuel will be produced from gasification of the waste into a so-called syngas which is then converted by the Fischer Tropsch process into liquid fuel [Reuters]. The biofuel would power part of the British Airways fleet flying out of London. The airline also says that diverting waste from landfills will curb the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is generated when garbage decomposes.
The move is part of a larger push by British Airways to get biofuels into the fuel tanks of its planes. BA plans to have biofuels make up 10 per cent of its total fuel usage by 2050, but not all will be derived from the Solena plant. Willie Walsh, BA chief executive, said the Solena partnership would pave the way for BA to cut net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 [Financial Times].
But aviation authorities haven’t yet signed off on British Airways’ bid to use biofuel for its fleet. Officials want further tests to make sure aircraft safety and performance are not compromised by engines running on biojet fuel, rather than conventional 100% crude oil-based kerosene [The Guardian] Some experts think that using pure biofuel won’t work for planes, as planes require high operational performance at all times and because of the extremely cold temperatures in which airline engines must operate [The Guardian]. In the United States there is just one plant producing biofuel similar to the type Solena will produce in London, and U.S. safety authorities allow planes to only mix in 50 percent of the green fuel with the conventional kerosene jet fuel.
Activists also note that biofuel is expected to power only 2 percent of British Airlines’ total flights, barely impacting the fleet’s greenhouse emissions. They say that if the aviation industry in Britain is serious about reducing its carbon footprint, it must reconsider plans of building a third runway at Heathrow International Airport.
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Image: British Airways