If you get time to study some of the statistics quoted by the aviation industry they are remarkable. Over 65 billion passengers carried over the last century; 58 million people employed; $6.4 trillion of cargo carried each year and around 60 million flying hours.
Predictions for the future, suggest the sector will sustain 103 million jobs and contribute $5.8 trillion to GDP in the next 20 years.
Of course, all of this activity comes at a price, especially for climate change. Depending on which estimate one uses, aviation’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions ranges from two to five per cent.
In recent years, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), has been pushing for a greener industry. It has developed a set of targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the sector. First, by capping the growth in CO2 from 2020 through a global market-based measure for aviation; and secondly with a goal to reduce aviation CO2 to half of what it was in 2005, by 2050.
Biofuels is one area attracting the interest of airlines to reduce their carbon footprint, with the help of chemical engineering.
ATAG suggests that if commercial aviation were to get six per cent of its fuel supply from biofuel by 2020, this would reduce its overall carbon footprint by five per cent.
Some airlines, like British Airways (BA), have already pressed the green button for ‘jet biofuel’.
BA, in partnership with Solena Fuels, has committed to building a facility in Essex, UK, to process 575,000 tonnes of residual municipal solid waste into aviation fuel.
According to BA, the GreenSky London Facility, located at the Thames Enterprise Park, will be the world’s first to convert waste destined for landfill into jet fuel.
Once operational the facility is expected to produce some 120,000 tonnes of liquid fuels, of which BA has agreed to purchase all 50,000 tonnes of aviation grade fuel at market competitive prices.
The project is being developed by Solena and will use its patented high temperature plasma gasification technology to convert the waste efficiently into synthetic gas.
The gas will then be converted into liquid hydrocarbons using third party technologies which will include cleaning and conditioning of the gas, a Velocys Fischer-Tropsch conversion process, hydrocracking and electric power production.
Hydrocracking is a process by which hydrocarbon molecules are broken into simpler molecules by the addition of hydrogen under high pressure and in the presence of a catalyst.
British Airways has committed to purchasing, at market competitive prices, the jet fuel produced by the plant for the next 11 years which equates to $550 million at today’s prices. The airline is also providing construction capital and becoming a minority shareholder in GreenSky.
It is anticipated that the construction phase will create one thousand jobs, and that once complete in 2017 up to 150 permanent jobs could be created at the site.
Good news all around – underpinned by great chemical engineering. We wish the project luck.