Plane fuelled by plastic waste completes trailblazing flight


British-born pilot and environmentalist Jeremy Rowsell has made history this week by flying a light aircraft across Australia using a conventional fuel blended with fuel derived from plastic waste. EurActiv’s partner reports.


The pioneering ‘On Wings of Waste’ flight, which travelled 500 miles from Sydney to Melbourne and landed on Thursday (12 January), is the culmination of a four-year project to fly a plane on a unique fuel blend made up from 10% end-of-life plastic normally found in the ocean and landfill sites which has been reprocessed by London-based Plastic Energy.

Use of the fuel – dubbed “the 10% solution” – in Rowsell’s Vans RV9a aircraft essentially proves that end-of-life plastic waste can be transformed from a pollutant into a viable alternative jet fuel and can also be used for any diesel engine.

“After years of preparation and many ups and downs, we’ve finally shown that the eight million tonnes of plastic dumped into the oceans each year can be put to good use,” said Rowsell, who was inspired to embark on the project after witnessing the devastating effects of plastic pollution from the air.

“We blended 10% of fuel manufactured by Plastic Energy with conventional fuel and the flight was a dream.”

Flight delayed

To produce the fuel, On Wings of Waste partner Plastic Energy use a ‘thermal anaerobic conversion’ process, which sees plastics heated in an oxygen-free environment to prevent them from burning, and then broken into their component hydrocarbons to create the equivalent of a petroleum distillate, which can then be separated into different fuels. As there is no ‘burning’ of the plastics, there are no toxic emissions released into the environment throughout the process.

If scaled up, the On Wings of Waste project could have a profound effect on the aviation industry. A 747 aircraft on a 10,000 mile flight burns 36,000 gallons of fuel and 33% of airlines’ operating costs are spent on fuel. If 3,600 gallons of that fuel was sourced from plastic waste it would be the equivalent of 18 tonnes of waste plastic that might otherwise be dumped in the ocean. Based on the 1,200 flights that are made from Heathrow every day, approximately 21,600 tonnes of plastic waste would be transformed from pollutant to fuel every 24 hours from that airport alone.

The groundbreaking On Wings of Waste flight was originally scheduled for take-off last year, with Rowsell leading an ambitious plan to fly more than 3,000 miles from San Francisco to Alaska using the plastic-to-oil technology. But a campaign spokesperson told edie that the inaugural flight was not able to go ahead due to “various complications”.


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