Food waste could be instrumental in producing sustainable aviation fuel, according to a recent study. Greenhouse gases from the aviation industry contribute 12% of transportation emissions and are bound to continue growing. It is projected that the industry’s emissions will double pre-pandemic levels by 2050. As such, researchers are working on finding viable biofuels for net-carbon-zero air travel.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in collaboration with the University of Dayton, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Yale University.
According to the study, using untapped energy in food waste to generate sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will provide an avenue to deal with two types of pollution at the same time. Plenty of food waste ends up in landfills, where it generates methane gas, one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases. The researchers found that this biofuel has a 165% decrease in net carbon emissions compared to standard fuel.
“Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) comprise a significant portion of the aviation sector’s strategy for CO2 reductions given the limited near-term prospects for electrification,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the low aromatic content of current SAF routes has been shown to reduce soot formation and aviation-related aerosol emissions by 50 to 70%, which can significantly impact the net global warming potential.”
Some large aviation companies have already started investing in SAF with the hope of finding a solution that can be widely used. Southwest Airlines is collaborating with NREL and other organizations in a demonstration project that is moving closer to commercial viability, thanks to scientific research and publications like this one.
“If our refining pathway is scaled up, it could take as little as a year or two for airlines like Southwest to get the fuel regulatory approvals they need to start using wet waste SAF in commercial flights,” said Derek Vardon, NREL scientist and co-author of the study. “That means net-zero-carbon flights are on the horizon earlier than some might have thought.”
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