London’s rubbish to fuel BA jets

February 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flying to the Future: British Airways is working with American biofuel firm Solena to set up a factory making aviation fuel. The Independent reports that four London sites are under  consideration for a plant to process domestic and industrial waste otherwise destined for landfill, and the factory could be up and running by 2014.

The biofuel will use waste products only, and its overall carbon impact is claimed to be 95% lower than that of conventional kerosene – the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road, once production is up and running. The factory could produce enough fuel to power all BA’s flights from London City Airport twice over, and generate 20MW of electricity a year as a byproduct.

It’s a small start to reducing the impact of the aviation industry – fuel use by short-hop BA planes from City is a tiny fraction of that of Heathrow flights alone – but a start nonetheless, and an indicator of the potential for synthesising fuels from waste, though the energy consumption involved in doing so is as yet unclear. Will strike-ridden BA (no longer the World’s Favourite Airline) rebrand and adopt a new tagline, like ‘Beyond Petroleum’ BP? It can Fly The Flag from the top of a garbage heap.

And in more biofuels news today, Green Car Congress is  reporting:

– Commercially-viable enzymes for converting agricultural waste into biofuel have been produced by Novozymes. The enzymes will enable production of cellulosic ethanol for less than $2 a gallon, and work on feedstocks including wheat straw, sugar cane, corn cobs and stalks, and woodchips.

– Researchers at the University of California (Davis) have identified a high-yield way of processing oil-seed plants such as canola, soybeans, jatropha and sunflowers to make biodiesel. The method reaps the plants’ carbohydrates (starches and sugars) as well as the oils, with a yield increased by up to 95%; if stalks and leaves are fed in as well as the seeds, the yield is potentially greater yet. The feedstock is heated with aqueous hydrochloric acid and 1,2-dichloroethane.

– Production of a factory to make sodium methylate has started in Brazil. Sodium methylate is a catalyst for biodiesel synthesis; the biofuel producer BASF reckons that around 15% of global biodiesel will be supplied by South America by 2015. Its factory is scheduled to open in 2011.

The above three stories all illustrate that commercial biofuel production is not necessarily a chemical-free, low-energy concern: even if the organic matter is from a sustainable, renewable source, turning it into a usable fuelis an intensive process. Biofuels aren’t a cure-all solution, by any means. But then you knew that already.

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