Science

Food Waste Can Now be Used As Jet Fuel

READING TIME ~ 3 MINUTES

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What is the current impact of aviation on the environment?
  2. How can jet fuel be created from food waste?
  3. How does this new type of jet fuel help the environment?

1: What is the current impact of aviation on the environment?

The aviation industry is responsible for creating an interconnected network of travel, communication, and ideas through the skies, but it also has a devastating impact on the environment and exacerbating climate change.

The main problem with the aviation industry, similar to most transportation, is carbon emissions. Whenever flights take off and burn jet fuel, emissions of CO2 gas are released. Carbon dioxide gas gets trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn traps heat within the Earth, leading to dangerous global warming effects. The aviation industry is already responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, and global carbon emissions are increasing at a dangerously high rate, so it is clear that there needs to be a solution to decarbonize the aviation industry. Luckily, scientists may have found this solution in an unlikely place. Food waste.

(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

2: How can jet fuel be created from food waste?

Steps toward decarbonizing the aviation industry are actively being pursued and researched. For example, airlines are:

  • Creating lighter and more efficient planes and jets, which burn less jet fuel, thus less carbon emissions.
  • Solar powered planes are being tested for short flights, but it is difficult due to the high amounts of power that airplanes and jets use.
  • Electric planes are also being tested, but it is not a viable solution in the near future. Similarly to solar-powered planes, it’s difficult due to the high amounts of power that airplanes and jets use.
  • Biofuels that cut over 60% of greenhouse emissions are starting to be used by main airlines. 

For now, biofuels have had a considerable impact on carbon emissions as they have  reduced over 60% of greenhouse emissions compared to regular jet fuel. In addition, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have been exploring a different option: jet fuel made out of food waste.

Food waste often sits in dumps and landfills, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming and pollution. Alas, scientists at NREL have figured out a way to turn this food waste in volatile fatty acids (VFA) before the waste turns into methane. As a result, they were able to turn these VFAs into sustainable paraffin (wax) for jet fuel through a “catalytic reaction”. 

(trustedchoice.com)

3: How does this new type of jet fuel help the environment?

The jet fuel derived from food waste kills two birds with one stone. It is able to tackle the problem of decreasing carbon emissions, as it decreases emissions by 165% compared to regular jet fuel (Anthropocene). In addition, it takes a jab at the food waste problem by finding an active use for the food waste that is just building up and releasing dangerous methane gas. Jet fuel from food waste has the potential to exponentially decrease carbon emissions in the near future. Researchers at NREL say that jet fuel from food waste can replace up to 20% of United States’ jet fuel consumption, “providing a path to net-zero emissions” (Anthropocene). 


TL;DR

  • The aviation industry has had a devastating impact on the environment and is responsible for 2.5% of carbon emissions.
  • Carbon emissions heat up the atmosphere, leading to dangerous global warming effects.
  • Airlines are taking steps towards cleaner emissions, but there isn’t a solution out there that can dramatically decrease emissions until recently.
  • Researchers at the NREL have found a process to turn food waste into jet fuel, which can decrease up to 165% of emissions compared to regular fossil fuels.
  • The jet fuel derived from food waste kills two birds with one stone. It is able to tackle the problems of increasing carbon emissions and increasing methane emissions from food dumps and landfills.

Sources

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