I cannot say I absolutely love to fly. I love to travel, yeah, but flying? It’s only fun when I take off and when I land. The rest of my flight is a truly horrific psychological torture, riddled with fears of inhaling contaminated recycled air, overpriced peanuts and gremlins gnawing on the aircraft wings.
Unfortunately, my daily hustle restricts me from acting upon my wanderlust more than once or twice a year. (Damn the Man!) However, as much as I hate flying, there’s only one thing that hates flights more than I do: the environment. New York Times labeled flying the “Biggest Carbon Sin” there is asserting that a round-trip flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco is as hazardous to Mother Nature as driving your car for a whole year.
Things are looking up for the airline industry. British Airways is pioneering a program in partnership with Solena Fuels to produce 50,000 metric tons of drop-in fuel from municipal waste. If they have their way, British Airlines will have all flights between London and JFK running on waste-based biofuels.
Currently, the British Airways-Solena Fuels project is the first waste-management initiative of its kind between a major airline and fuel firm. Should the project prove successful, the move could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flights up to 95 percent in comparison to fossil fuels. It also helps that this biofuel can be blended with conventional jet fuels.
On a more economic note, the move will also create 1,200 jobs in London when their jointly developed plant opens in 2015. They plan to use 1,500 tons of waste per day, which they’ll essentially get for free, barring transport costs. Furthermore, you should also know the company plans to create approximately 40 megawatts of electricity per day in addition to their waste-to-fuel conversions. An estimated amount of these megawatts will be used to power the plant, the rest will be sent to the grid.
Empirical and bold, isn’t it? Scientific American magazine breaks down the science behind the development. “Once the waste has been cleaned of any hazardous or 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,” they wrote. “The gas will then be converted to liquid fuel, in a process called Fischer-Tropsch.”
So far, things appear deeply credible, but what are the long-term effects, if any, of converting trash into airline fuel? Will it prove to be a truly powerful advancement for sustainable energy in the travel industry? Can it make the airline industry more environmentally friendly and (hopefully) more cost-efficient in the long run? Are there any ghastly side effects we should be aware of? Will synthetic, trash-sourced fuel emit so pungent an odor it embeds itself in my tracks and curls my nose hairs 30,000 feet above the ground? And if such a horrible thing is a possibility, can it at least ward off those petrifying gremlins, so they stop chewing on the wings while taunting me throughout the duration of my flight?