Waste-to-jet fuel partnership takes off

A new project, the first of its kind globally, will see rubbish otherwise bound for landfill turned into clean aviation fuel

Landfill waste will be converted into jet fuel in a pioneering scheme involving British Airways (BA).

Fuel will be produced at a new facility located at Thames Enterprise Park in Thurrock, Essex, which was formerly the site of an oil refinery.

It will be the first facility globally to convert landfill waste into jet fuel when it is completed in 2017, according to BA.

The airline has committed to buying all 50,000 tonnes of aviation grade fuel produced annually by the GreenSky London project for 11 years.

Work on the plant is expected to start in 2015 and will require around 1,000 construction workers and create 150 permanent operational jobs.

BA says the fuel will be created from waste left over once all recyclable material has been removed. Such material would otherwise be sent to landfill or incinerated.

The conversion process involves technology developed by US firm Solena Fuels. High temperature plasma gasification technology is used to turn the waste into synthetic gas and then into liquid hydrocarbons.

The plant is expected to convert 500,000 tonnes of waste into 120,000 tonnes of “clean burning liquid fuels” each year.

In addition to the aviation fuel, this will also include 50,000 tonnes of biodiesel and 20,000 tonnes of bio-naphtha, which can be blended into other fuels.

Andrew Owens, chief executive of Greenergy, a road fuel supplier and the site project facilitator, said GreenSky will benefit from existing storage capacity and pipelines, as well as good transport links.

“The facility proposed by British Airways and Solena is exactly the type of high profile technology project both we and Thurrock Council want to attract to the site, particularly given the number of skilled jobs provided,” he said.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA’s parent company International Airlines Group (IAG), said the jet fuel produced each year could “power our flights from London City Airport twice over”.

Air travel is responsible for two percent of all “human-induced CO2 emissions” and 12 percent of emissions from transport, according to the Air Transport Action Group.

But demand is increasing rapidly, with 3.1 bn passengers carried in 2013.

John Stewart, vice-chair of the Campaign for Better Transport, said GreenSky is a “drop in the ocean at this stage”.

“It’s a move forward on a small scale, but there’s no realistic alternative to kerosene on a large scale,” he said. “There’s still no tax on aviation fuel in most countries and no VAT on tickets and that has to end.”