By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
Aviation adventurer Jeremy Rowsell will take recycling to new heights when he flies a single engine plane 10,000 miles fueled by melted plastic. Now you know how to use your empty margarine tubs.
Most of us derive some small sense of "doing our part" whenever we drop our used plastic bottles in the recycle bin. If the system works, the bottles eventually reincarnate as fresh new plastic containers, and we've chipped away at the world's carbon footprint and spared the environment from a smidgin more landfill.
But pilot Jeremy Rowsell isn't like most of us. He's taking the idea of recycling plastic to a whole new height. Literally.
Rowsell believes that used plastic can find new life as aviation fuel. To prove the point, he plans to fly a single engine Cessna 182 propeller plane from Sydney to London powered by melted plastic, according to the website Business Green.
"We can't stop flying, but how can we do that and do it sustainably?" Rowsell asks in the story. "Our objective is to prove that this synthetic fuel made from plastic waste is viable for a number of practical solutions and by doing so replace the need to use fossil fuels from conventional sources."
The pioneering 6-day, 10,000-mile adventure this November will include stops in Darwin, Christmas Island, Sri Lanka, Jordan and Malta. At each touch down, Rowsell will top up his tank with a trial fuel that Irish company Cynar Plc makes by melting plastic in an oxygen-free environment - a process known as pyrolysis.
Cynar claims that the technique spews no emissions, and the petroleum distillate-like fuel it creates is cleaner and higher quality than the diesel that normally would normally power the Cessna. Cynar has tested the fuel in vehicles, but Rowsell's journey will mark the first use in an aircraft. He'll fly at 5,000 feet for up to 13 hours a day, Business Green reports.
Plenty of flights have taken off using biofuels. But according to Cynar, Rowsell's will be the first flight powered by repurposed plastic. And while most biofuel flights use a mix with conventional fuel, Rowsell will use nothing but the "plastic" alternative. He'll burn about 4000 liters (1057 gallons), requiring about 5 tons of plastic waste.
Cynar CEO tells Business Green that there is plenty of plastic waste to power low altitude flights in the future.
"There's 26 million tonnes [of plastics] in the US going into landfill each year and 15 million in Europe," he says. "I think [the fuel] can be a viable alternative if the industry adopts diesel-type engines. It'll need testing and trials, but for a diesel engine not going beyond 8,000 feet, it should be fine."
If you're worried about Rowsell's safety, take some comfort in knowing that the aviation maverick completed survival training for an earlier single engine flight (using standard fuel) across the Pacific. Watch the video below from Australian escape training company Red Alert to see him learn how to cope should his aircraft plunge to the sea. My favorite bit of advice from his coaches: "When you ditch, just remain really calm." Let's hope that the challenge of saving the planet from the wreck of fossil fuels is just as simple!
Photos: Cessna from Arpingstone via Wikimedia. Jeremy Rowsell grabbed from Red Alert YouTube survival training video.
Note: This story corrects an earlier version. The Cessna will drink 4000 liters of fuels (1057 gallons), not 400 liters (106 gallons) as Business Green originally reported and SmartPlanet repeated. (Sounded low in the first place! Still, nice job by Business Green in spotting this adventure). Updated around 3:25 a.m. PDT, Aug. 29.
More plastic fuels on SmartPlanet:
- In the Philippines, turning plastic waste into fuel
- At Crane and Co., a greener greenback
- Bye bye imported oil? New tech turns junk plastics into fuel
Aviation biofuels on SmartPlanet:
- Friends of Earth rain on Lufthansa biofuels parade
- Biofuels fly mainstream: Lufthansa passenger flights taking off
- Airbus and Europe map jet biofuel goal
- Will the real biofuel Lindbergh please stand up?
- Honeywell: The Lindbergh of aviation biofuels
Aug 26, 2012
So turning plastic into fuel "isn't going to make much difference." How much difference would it make if it wasn't done at all? Right. None. As to that figure of 26 million tons of plastic available, does that take into consideration all the plastic that is currently in landfills all around the country or the plastic floating in that Texas-size island in the Pacific? There is one in the Atlantic and who knows where else. (Weight estimate of ocean plastic is at 315 billion pounds or roughly 155 million tons http://news.discovery.com/earth/how-much-plastics-is-in-the-ocean.html.) If it's OK to trek to the far reaches of the earth, to the poles and into the depths of the oceans for oil, why is it not OK to mine the waste plastic that is also in those places? No one has said it's not, but looking at the potential sees things in a new light.
I was not aware that a 182 was made that burned anything but aviation 100 octane LL! Are you sure the fuel will be diesel???
Love the idea, good luck and happy flying to Mr Roswell! But! 5 tons of plastic yielding 106 gallons of fuel (about, I'm sure) and an estimated 26 million tons of plastic available, that works out to a bit over 500 million gallons of potential fuel (if *all* of the plastic is used) or about 2 days worth of fuel for the entire US. Yes, every little bit counts and all the options should be considered. Just keep in mind this idea is one of the little bits that on its own isn't going to make much difference. This *plus* any number of other ideas will change the world.
Converting plastics and other trash to fuel would be great -- if it wasn't so expensive. Many other businesses have tried versions of this process, but so far nobody has been able to make it competitive with fuels refined from oil. It turns out it actually *is* cheaper to go to the ends of the earth to get our fuel. Of course, the nice thing about all that plastic is that it will still be around decades from now if the process to convert it to fuel does become economical. Plastic is a very good way to sequester carbon... As for all that plastic in the ocean, most of it has been broken down into tiny bits that would be impossible to collect. Scientists have to use fine cloth sieves to even collect it. While there are whole plastic jugs and other items floating in the ocean (especially since the Japanese tsunami), the idea that there is a Texas-sized island of these big chunks of plastics floating out there is just a scare tactic that the media does everything it can to promote.
...a few weeks ago at Oshkosh. But you better start saving now. Price starts a bit over a half-million.