“Look! Up in the sky.”
“It’s a bird.”
“It’s a plane.”
“Well, it’s a plastic-powered plane, making a test flight from Sydney to London.”
That’s what representatives of the Irish company, Cynar Plc, could be saying in November when it plans to see how well the plane’s journey goes using its fuel made from waste plastics. Usually, fuel and plastics comes from processing petroleum. In this case, however, the fuel is made when waste plastics are melted in an oxygen-free environment, a process called pyrolysis, to create the equivalent of a petroleum distillate that can be separated into different fuels, reports Business Green.
The plastic-derived fuel has been tested in cars. The flight in November will be the first real-life test in an aircraft. Commercial airlines have experimented with biofuels for their jet engines made from energy crops, food waste, and industrial gases. The problem is that there may not be enough of those products and waste to produce a viable green aviation fuel energy.
Meanwhile, the amount of plastic in landfills and increasing consumer demand for the material will ensure that there will be synthetic fuel reserves, says Michael Murray, chief executive of Cynar. “There’s 26 million tons [of plastics] in the U.S. going into landfill each year and 15 million in Europe,” he says. “I think [the fuel] can be a viable alternative if the industry adopts diesel-type engines. It’ll need testing and trials, but for a diesel engine not going beyond 8,000 feet, it should be fine.”
Cynar claims that the manufacturing process to make the fuel for the diesel engines releases no emissions. Moreover, the end product is cleaner than conventional diesel and of a higher quality. The plastic that cannot be converted to fuel is used to make floor coverings.
Four hundred liters are needed to make the London-to-Sydney flight, requiring about five tons of plastic waste. If large quantities of plastic waste can be secured, then this fuel could provide a green alternative to conventional aircraft fuel, the company says.
“Flying is critical to the economy, vital for saving lives and is the best way to experience the planet we live on,” the company says in a statement. “We can’t stop flying, but how can we do that and do it sustainably? Our objective is to prove that this synthetic fuel made from plastic waste is viable for a number of practical solutions and by doing so replace the need to use fossil fuels from conventional sources.”
Source: “Plastic-powered plane to fly from Sydney to London,” Business Green, 8/22/12
Image by Baseball Bugs.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.