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British Airways Will Power Flights With Trash

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BritishAirLast year’s report by the International Panel for Climate Change
was so dire that it caused meteorologist Eric Holthaus to burst into tears. Anyone who has read this report, or any of the myriad scientific findings suggesting that humans keep digging themselves, and the planet, into a deeper and deeper hole, can probably relate to what Holthaus was feeling. Realizing that planes are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, Holthaus Tweeted again a couple minutes later:

Like anyone who’s outspoken about climate change, Holthaus elicited a flurry of reactions, and even death threats. Regardless of one’s opinion about his vow to stop flying, it’s undeniable that transportation takes a toll on the environment for many reasons, including emissions and the production of jet fuel. The latter is an area that British Airways is seeking to address, as it has committed to producing fuel out of garbage in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint associated with flying.

A former oil refinery near London will now be used to make renewable fuel from over $500 million worth of garbage. Solena Fuels, “pioneers in the sustainable aviation and marine fuels market,” has created a fuel solution that helps address the need for alternative fuel sources and the growing waste management problem. They want to end the reliance on petroleum-based fuels while addressing overflowing landfills. The solution is ingenious — as Solena Fuels points out, there’s already a system in place for collecting, sorting, and moving trash. Why not take advantage of the existing infrastructure? Also, because the city pays for the landfill, they’ll actually generate income by replacing the landfill and buying the trash that it will convert into fuel, resulting in low production costs.

After everything is recycled from London’s trash, the leftover stuff that would typically head to a landfill will go to Solena, which will turn the trash into a gas and then convert it into jet fuel. The resulting product works like conventional coal and natural-gas fuels, but it’s safer than biofuels, especially at higher altitudes.

British Airways will initially use about half a million tons of the 18 million tons of waste London generates per year, which will comprise roughly 2% of its total fuel. But it hopes to increase that number over time, and Solena hopes that other airlines will follow suit. I’m not sure that will do enough to mitigate Holthaus’s concerns about the carbon footprint associated with flying, but it definitely won’t hurt. And in case you’re wondering, Holthaus’s recent tweet was a little more hopeful on the heels of the National Climate Assessment’s report
on climate change, which outlines the sobering impacts of climate change region by region, but also outlines strategies to mitigate those effects.

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