Using waste-based biofuel – Part 1
Turning Aviation Green
In October 2018 Virgin Atlantic made history when its VS16 flight from Orlando to London Gatwick arrived. It marked a world first: a commercial air journey that (partly) ran on jet fuel made from recycling waste gases.
The waste-based biofuel was developed from recycling industrial gases produced from steel-making and other heavy industrial processes. The carbon-rich gases are turned into ethanol from which jet fuel – among other low-carbon products – is produced.
In comparison to traditional jet fuel, the waste-based biofuel delivers 70% life cycle savings and has none of the water or land use concerns associated with crop-based biofuels.
More about biofuels
This ‘3rd generation’ biofuel is a new and more powerful formula with exciting applications.
The majority of biofuels used are made from sugarcane, starch, or wheat; known as first generation biofuels. Plant based biofuels have been criticised as unsustainable because crops are grown specifically, requiring significant agricultural resources to produce the volumes needed as well as the impact of removing foods from the supply chain for people and animals.
Second generation biofuels are produced from green waste, food waste or slurry. Diverting these materials from landfill has a double benefit. Organic matter decomposing in landill generates methane, a greenhouse gas which is over 80 times more powerful than CO2, and it is released into the atmosphere. Using ‘waste’ to make biofuel captures and utilises the energy in the natural resources.
A study convened by the European Climate Foundation (ECF) discovered that if all sustainable waste from farms, forests, households, and industry were used for transport fuels, it could to displace about 37 million tonnes of oil annually by 2030.
This equates to 16% of road transport fuel demand!
Benefits of waste-based biodiesel
Another ‘waste’ stream which can be converted into a sustainable biodiesel is used cooking oil and fats; these are particularly useful for the transport system. Fats and oils are often poured down drains (blocking them), sent to landfill, or otherwise pollute the environment.
Compared with fossil fuels, biofuels generate significantly lower carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, thus reducing environmental pollution. Turning waste into sustainable biofuel also reduces landfill and lowers the cost of maintaining drainage and water treatment networks.
Waste-based biodiesels don’t require farm land, unlike biofuels made from crops. As such, waste-based biofuel doesn’t put pressure on food prices, contribute to food scarcity, or increase the use of chemical fertilisers.
Additionally, waste-based biofuel has been identified as being particularly beneficial to aid the EU meet its targets for decarbonisation.