The aviation fuel of the future might be created in Scotland – with scientists working to make an environmentally-sustainable replacement.
The Future of Aviation Fuel
The fuel is created from waste wooden pellets which are heated, became a gas and mixed with other ingredients.
A team from Heriot-Watt University is close to working with a major airline on piloting the biomass fuel.
It comes as Scottish and UK ministers prepare to receive fresh advice on when to aim for net-zero carbon emissions.
Prof Mercedes Maroto-Valer, who is leading the project, told BBC Scotland’s The Nine. “We are really addressing global challenges and finding solutions for decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.
“The aviation sector, in particular, is increasing its CO2 emissions and what we want is to assist them to find the fuels of the future that will be sustainable.
“What we’ve demonstrated over the last 3 years is that our method is viable, that it works and produces aviation fuel lower in CO2 emissions than current fuels, and we’re now ready to jump into the future stage.”
The competition was launched by the airline in November and numerous rounds of judging have placed Heriot-Watt in the final three.
It is competing with University College London and the London School of economics for the £25,000 prize and a commitment to assist develop the solution further.
Only a small quantity of the fuel has been created so far with the laboratory equipment available. However, vast quantities would be needed to make the long-haul journey.
Associate Professor Dr. John Andresen said: “There are going to be no distinction between the jet fuel you have nowadays and the jet fuel we’ve got from our process.
“The only thing is that when you fly with our jet fuel you’ll saving the planet, where if you fly with crude oil you will not save the planet.”
In basic terms, the biomass pellets are heated to 600 degrees through a gasification process to make carbon monoxide gas.
Separately, waste carbon dioxide is put through an electrolyzer to create a second gas.
Jet fuel is made once these 2 new gases are combined and turned into a liquid.
The green alternative is unlikely to completely replace oil-based aviation fuel, but the hope is that it can significantly scale back the industry’s carbon footprint.
Alex Cruz, chairman, and chief executive of British Airways, said: “The UK can lead the world in the development and production of sustainable alternative fuels, which will play a key role in decarbonizing aviation, as well as delivering benefits for employment, exports and waste reduction.
“As an industry, we need to explore a range of choices to reduce our emissions.
“Some of the best scientific minds in this field are based in the UK and are brilliantly equipped to develop a pathway for the united kingdom to achieve global leadership in the development of sustainable alternative aviation fuels.”
Technologies like this will be studied closely by politicians who are examining our contributions to climate change.
The influential Committee on climate change will publish fresh advice to ministers this week on what can, and should, be done to limit the impact from global temperature rises.