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UK plans Europe's first rubbish-to-jet fuel manufacturing facility

20 August 2019

British Airways and Royal Dutch Shell have submitted plans to build Europe’s first plant that converts household waste into jet fuel in the UK. The two companies will work with Velocys, a sustainable fuel specialist, on a site near Immingham on the Humber estuary in North Lincolnshire.

Artist's impression of proposed plant - Image: Altalto Immingham
Artist's impression of proposed plant - Image: Altalto Immingham

It would be built by Velocys through its subsidiary Altalto Immingham Limited, and would turn 500,000 tonnes of non-recyclable household and commercial solid waste per year into sustainable aviation fuel. Construction on the project could begin in 2021 with the site producing commercial volumes of jet fuel three years later.

A planning decision by the North East Lincolnshire Council is expected by the end of November.

The three companies have invested a combined £7.3 million ($8.8 million) in the project so far, which is ultimately expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds to build.

The British government has also provided almost £0.5 million funding for the project, which could create around 130 permanent jobs.

British Airways and Shell will purchase the biofuel produced, which emits around 70% less greenhouse gases compared with the fossil fuel equivalent, Velocys said. The fuel should also improve air quality by reducing soot and sulphur oxide emissions from engine exhausts, and offer a lower emissions route for processing UK waste than incineration or landfill.

Biofuels – non-fossil fuel-sourced fuels - are currently blended with conventional fuels up to the industry-standard limit of 50%, although in practice the blends are significantly less at the moment. There are still relatively few suppliers, and the cost of biofuel is around three times higher than regular fuel.

However numerous airlines are making commitments to its purchase – United has agreed to buy 10 million gallons of biofuel from World Energy over the next two years, while KLM has placed a ten-year order with the Netherlands’ SkyNRG.

Virgin Atlantic is working with LanzaTech to build a large-scale alcohol to jet facility in the UK.

Finnair recently flew from Helsinki to San Francisco and back using a 12% biofuel blend produced from used cooking oil in California.

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz said: “The submission of the planning application marks a major milestone in this project and we are delighted with the progress being made. Sustainable fuels can be a game changer for aviation which will help power our aircraft for years to come.”

Aviation accounts for around 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions but this is predicted to grow as air travel increases, at a time when nations are seeking to limit emissions to curb climate change.

The aviation industry has a target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 compared with 2005 levels and sees the emergence of lower-carbon biofuels as a vital step to meeting this goal.

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