Greener flights took another step forward this week as a BP-backed waste-to-fuels plant went into construction.
Located outside Reno, Nevada, the Fulcrum plant will be the US’s first commercial-scale operation diverting household garbage from landfill into a low-carbon, renewable transportation fuel product.
BP announced its $30 million (£23 million) investment in Fulcrum, a pioneer in the development and production of low-carbon aviation fuel, in November 2016 - at the same time it secured a 10-year deal with the company for the supply of 50 million US gallons of biojet per year for its aviation business, Air BP.
Trash and carrier
Once the Sierra BioFuels Plant begins commercial operations, expected to be in the first quarter of 2020, it plans to convert approximately 175,000 tons of household garbage into more than 10.5 million gallons of fuel each year – the equivalent quantity of aviation fuel is enough to supply over 1,600 A320 aircraft.
The start of construction at the Sierra plant comes in the same month that Air BP announced it was supplying Braathens Regional Airlines in Sweden with biojet for their new consumer biofuel flights offer, and supported a German Aerospace Center (DLR) and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study into the potential of alternative fuels for environmentally-friendly aviation.
“Air BP is recognized by airlines, airports and industry experts as the environmental leader among all fuel suppliers. “Our partnership with Fulcrum marks our clear intent to support our customers and the wider industry to meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets.”Jon Platt, Air BP CEO
How household waste is converted into aviation fuel
Biojet demand takes off
Fulcrum says its process reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%, compared to the production of traditional aviation fuel.
It’s hoped the new source of low carbon aviation fuel will help to address the gap between supply and soaring demand, partly driven by the aviation industry’s ambitious climate goals – the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is aiming for zero growth in carbon by 2020 and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, when compared to 2005
“The airline industry has ambitious emissions targets, which in a growing industry will only be achieved with support from across the entire supply chain. Airlines and manufacturers are doing their part, but it’s fuel suppliers like Air BP that can really drive change by promoting and securing supply of new, advanced aviation biofuels. “Over 100,000 commercial flights have been powered by biojet since 2008 and the industry wants that to grow. But in order to support that growth we think three things need to happen – the industry needs sustainable and scalable feedstock, there needs to be continued investment in the technologies required to produce aviation biofuels and there has to be regulatory support to increase production.”Matt Elliott, Air BP commercial vice president
Fulcrum is leading the development of a reliable and efficient process for transforming municipal solid waste – or household garbage – into transportation fuels including jet fuel and diesel. The Sierra plant will employ approximately 500 people during construction, 120 permanent plant operations jobs and many more indirect jobs throughout Northern Nevada. Air BP fuels more than 6,000 flights every day – that is over four aircraft every minute or one every 15 seconds. Air BP supplies fuel at around 900 locations in over 50 countries serving customers from private pilots to some of the world’s largest airlines.
Fulcrum CEO Jim Macias explains how waste is turned into jet fuel