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12 Apr, 2024 14:27

Human waste could soon power planes

A world-first factory in the UK will convert sewage into sustainable aviation fuel
Human waste could soon power planes

British biofuel company Firefly has reached an agreement with the low-cost airline Wizz Air to build a commercial refinery that will help convert sewage into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

According to Firefly, which has developed the conversion process, the fuel is still undergoing regulatory testing. If approved, it could be used to power aircraft, the company said this week.

The refinery, the first of its kind, will be built in Essex and could start delivering commercial supplies of SAF by 2028 to serve London’s airports. There is potential for two more such facilities in the UK, according to Firefly.

Wizz said it was investing by making a massive order for up to 525,000 tons of Firefly’s waste-based fuel over the next 15 years.

Meanwhile, utility company Anglian Water has announced it will provide Firefly with biosolids from its wastewater treatment process for a pilot facility.

Firefly chief executive James Hygate said biosolids are “kind of disgusting stuff” but “an amazing resource.” 

“We’re turning sewage into jet fuel. I can’t really think of many things that are cooler than that,” he added.

SAF production uses 70% less carbon than conventional jet fuel, but is currently significantly more expensive to produce.

According to Paul Hilditch, Firefly’s chief operations officer, “there’s enough biosolids in the UK for more than 200,000 tons of SAF” – which he said is sufficient to satisfy about half of the mandated SAF demand in 2030.

Converted sewage should be cheaper and more abundant, and could provide 5% of the fuel needs of airlines in the UK, Hilditch claimed.

Under a government mandate, at least 10% of fuel used by airlines in the UK must be made from sustainable feedstocks by 2030.