A new aviation firm has pioneered a jet fuel made entirely from human sewage. Scientists at a laboratory in Gloucestershire have successfully converted the waste into kerosene, BBC reported.
James Hygate, Firefly Green Fuels CEO, said, “We wanted to find a highly abundant and low-value feedstock. And of course, poo is abundant.”
Tests conducted by international aviation regulators independently revealed that it closely resembled conventional fossil jet fuel. Firefly collaborated with Cranfield University to assess the life cycle carbon impact of the fuel. The findings indicated that Firefly’s fuel boasts a carbon footprint that is 90% lower than that of standard jet fuel.
Mr Hygate, who has dedicated two decades to the development of low-carbon fuels in Gloucestershire, emphasized that while the new fuel shares chemical similarities with fossil-based kerosene, it is distinctly different in that it contains no fossil carbon-making it a truly fossil-free fuel.
“Of course, energy would be used (in production), but when looking at the fuel’s life cycle, a 90% saving is mind-blowing, so yes, we have to use energy but it is much lower compared to the production of fossil fuels,” he added.
Globally, aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of total carbon emissions, contributing to climate change. While this percentage may seem modest, it is rapidly increasing, and decarbonizing aviation poses significant challenges.
Efforts are underway to develop electric planes, with a Cotswolds-based company pledging hydrogen-electric powered flights for twelve passengers by 2026. However, transitioning the entire aviation industry to these new technologies will likely take years, possibly decades.
In the meantime, there’s a global race to discover environmentally friendly methods of producing kerosene without relying on fossil fuels, as the quest for greener alternatives intensifies.
In Gloucestershire, Mr Hygate initiated the conversion of rapeseed oil into ‘bio-diesel’ for automobiles and trucks two decades ago on a small farm. Through his company, Green Fuels, he currently markets equipment designed for the transformation of cooking oil into biodiesel, with a clientele spanning the globe.
Subsequently, Mr Hygate embarked on the quest to develop eco-friendly jet fuel. Numerous experiments were conducted with various sources, including waste oils, discarded food, and agricultural remnants. One notable avenue of experimentation involved exploring the utilization of human waste.
He teamed up with a chemist from Imperial College, London, Dr Sergio Lima. Together, they developed a process which transforms poo into power. First, they create what they call “bio-crude”. It looks like oil: thick, black, gloopy. Most importantly, it behaves like crude oil chemically, BBC reported.
Dr Lima, who is also the research director at Firefly Green Fuels, said, “What we are producing here is a fuel which is net zero.”
When Dr Lima first saw the results, he was thrilled.
“This is so exciting because it was produced from a sustainable feedstock, to which all of us are contributing.”
The bio-kerosene is now being tested independently at the DLR Institute of Combustion Technology at the German Aerospace Center, working with Washington State University.
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