Fuelling Planes With Your Leftovers

Can your food waste be used to create flight?


The days of feeling guilty for leaving food on your plate could be over.

United Airlines - which turned over $38 billion in 2014 - is set to become the first airline to use food waste to fuel an aircraft. The experiment, which will initially be tested on a flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco, could be the start of a new partnership between airlines and biofuel companies.

Although other partnerships have been formed in the past, the recent excitement around the subject comes courtesy of United Airlines’s investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy, a company that converts waste, primarily household, into jet fuel. The investment is thought to be somewhere in the region of $30 million and addresses the government’s concern about the carbon footprint which comes from flying.

Combining animal fat with food leftovers, it’s predicted that the partnership could reduce greenhouse emissions by 80% in the USA. Not only would this solve the problem of the USA’s rising greenhouse emissions, it would also create a purpose for the country’s high level of food-waste. A contributing factor to greenhouse emissions too, it’s estimated that the average American wastes over $600 dollars on food each year.

The project - which is expected to start later this summer - will initially be used on five flights on the Los Angeles - San Francisco route. However, the fuel attained from Fulcrum will be used by United Airlines in around two years time. Instead, the fuel used on the upcoming project will be AltAir’s, a company which United Airlines invested in a couple of years ago.

Unlike Fulcrum, AltAir’s fuel is made from natural oils and farm waste, but is nevertheless a green approach which will have an impact on the airline’s ability to keep its carbon emissions down. Fulcrum’s fuel, however, will be ready for use in 2018.

With a sustainable approach to business being imperative, United Airlines’s approach is not only commendable, but makes good business sense. Last year was the first time on record that carbon emission levels didn’t rise, which is positive, but we’re still a long way off the level we should be aiming for. It does, however, prove that consumers and organizations want to work together to promote green strategies. This is encouraging, but just the beginning.

Other major airlines - including British Airways, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines - have also made plans to invest in the space. British Airways, for example, announced last year that it would be investing in a project called ‘GreenSky’. It plans to purchase all the fuel the plant produces over the next 11 years, thought to be in the region of 50,000 tonnes. It’s been claimed that the project will be the equivalent of removing 150,000 cars off the roads and will be a step forward for the aviation industry’s attempt to become greener.

Food’s not there to be wasted and if this United Airlines approach works, it won’t need to be. 


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