Poo powered planes: could human waste fuel the future of flight?

Wizz Air - Poo powered planes.

Hungarian airline Wizz air believe it could. The airline has teamed up with Firefly Green Fuels, who have developed a process which will convert treated sewage into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The limitations of SAF

SAF won’t mean an end to the use of traditional fuels to power planes; but it can be used in a maximum blend of 50% with kerosene, without modifying jet engines. The production of SAF typically emits 70% less carbon than conventional jet fuel, which could help the aviation industry significantly reduce its carbon emissions.

SAF is not a silver bullet, reducing unnecessary flights, prioritising more efficient transportation options and looking for alternative methods to power flights are all crucial steps in mitigating aviation’s environmental impact.

While SAFs can be more than twice as expensive to produce as standard fuels, the EU aims to have at least 20% of jet fuel sourced from SAF by 2035. Therefore, finding affordable and scalable production methods will be critical.

Sewer network challenges

Turning human waste into a valuable commodity could potentially provide funding for the necessary upgrades to the UK’s Victorian sewer network, which struggles to cope during periods of heavy rainfall.

As global temperatures rise, warmer air which is capable of holding more moisture, contributes to increasing rainfall worldwide. According to the Met Office, the 18 months up to March 2024 rank as the fourth wettest on record, with the wettest 18-month period being August 2019 to January 2021.

Last November, The Guardian reported that Thames Water had pumped at least 72 billion litres of sewage into the river Thames since 2020 – equivalent to 29,000 Olympic swimming pools! Combined sewer overflows (CSOs), overflow valves designed to reduce the risk of sewage backing up during heavy rainfall and flooding homes and businesses, release the sewage. The system isn’t faulty; it simply wasn’t designed to handle our increasingly wet winters. Significant investment will be necessary to update the network to cope with our changing weather patterns.

Innovative solutions, like turning human waste into sustainable aviation fuel, present a promising avenue for addressing both environmental and infrastructural challenges.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/nov/10/thames-water-pumped-sewage-into-thames

https://www.euronews.com/travel/2022/05/04/how-do-sustainable-aviation-fuels-work-and-are-they-a-viable-alternative

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