Britain’s major flag-carrier, British Airways, has recently announced that it plans to source at least some of its fuel supply from excess municipal waste. They announced that there were plans to acquire around 16 million gallons a year of “green airline fuel” from the Somena Waster Plant in London. It is expected that the plant will begin active production as soon as 2014, and will have the capacity to convert some 50,000 tons of waste into fuel capable of being used as airline fuel for British Airways.
Initially the volume of the new green fuel utilized by the airline would account for around 2% of their entire fuel consumption. The use of the new fuel will allow the airline to reduce carbon emissions generated as a result of the usage of more conventional airline fuels such as kerosene. This waste-to-energy process, with its advantages, is likely to allow British Airways to get some 10% of its fuel from such a source.
Other advantages include the fact that with a huge company and consumer like British Airways using such waste for its fuel generation processes London’s waste management will be greatly aided. The process also serves in the conversion of methane produced by the decomposition of the municipal waste as well as the fact that the use of such a fuel source will inevitably serve to reduce overall carbon emissions, a problem that has seen air travel come under increased scrutiny and pressure from governments in recent times.
Other existing concerns helping to promote this move is that waste management in big cities such as London has become a big problem, with increasing population pressures leading to the reduction of areas that might be utilized as landfill sites. Additionally the recycling of waste in landfills only uses a small potential portion of waste materials, and its decomposition in landfills poses a definite risk of hazardous methane emissions into the atmosphere. Also, poisonous chemicals present may infiltrate into the underlying water table, posing definite hazards for human water supplies.
Many people, despite the general overwhelming acclaim welcoming British Airways’ new fuel initiative, have expressed disappointment that the company has set what appears to be rather meager ambitions for future expansions of the use of such biofuels. British Airways currently only plans to increase its use of such waste-derived fuels to just 10% by the year 2050, and at a time when governments are under considerable pressure to levy higher taxes on the airlines due to carbon emissions some feel that the targets are disappointingly unambitious. Further use of such waste-derived fuels would significantly reduce the carbon liabilities of companies such as BA, and would undoubtedly be a huge contribution to the current environmental debate and may take some of the heat off of the beleaguered airlines. Still, there is no guarantee as to what the airline may decide to do in the coming decades and we may well see increased biofuel usage should this initial conversion prove overall beneficial to the company.
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