British Airways has taken a step toward powering its future fleet with sustainable jet fuel after its renewable fuels partner Velocys applied to develop Europe’s first plant for turning household and commercial solid waste into sustainable fuel. 

Altalto Immingham Ltd., a subsidiary of renewable fuels company Velocys, which works with British Airways and Shell, has submitted a planning application to develop a site in Immingham, North East Lincolnshire, England into a plant that would convert over half-a-million tonnes each year of non-recyclable everyday household and commercial solid waste destined for landfill or incineration into cleaner burning sustainable jet fuel.

The plant could transform items such as meal packaging, napkins and takeaway coffee cups, using technology that British Airways, part of International Airlines Group (IAG), said would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% for every tonne of sustainable jet fuel that replaces a tonne of conventional fossil fuel. 

British Airways, which announced its cooperation with Velocys in September 2017, will buy jet fuel produced at the plant for use in its aircraft.

Aviation’s contribution to climate change is under intense scrutiny, following calls for a Europe-wide aviation tax and France’s July announcement that it would impose an eco-tax on flights departing the country.  

IAG CEO Willie Walsh was among the Airlines for Europe (A4E) industry group airline executives who spoke out in defense of aviation’s efforts to limit its impact on the environment at the time, saying taxation would not help the environment and that taxes divert funds from investing in sustainable fuels, aircraft and technologies.

“EU governments should recognize and support airlines’ sustainability initiatives with better research and development opportunities,” A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert said at the time. 

British Airways said the fuel produced by the future plant will also improve air quality with up to 90% reduction in soot from aircraft engine exhausts and almost 100% reduction in sulphur oxides, and the technology offers a lower emissions route to process UK waste than incineration or landfill.

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz said: “Sustainable fuels can be a game changer for aviation, which will help power our aircraft for years to come. This development is an important step in the reduction of our carbon emissions and meeting the industry targets of carbon neutral growth from 2020, and a 50% in CO2 reduction by 2050 from 2005 levels. It also brings the UK another step closer to becoming a global leader in sustainable aviation fuels.”

IAG head of sustainability Jonathon Counsell called on the British government to support the setting up of a dedicated office for sustainable aviation fuels to help encourage the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel.

IAG plans to invest a total of $400 million in alternative sustainable fuel development over the next 20 years.

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk