It’s crazy to think about, but in the not-so-distant future you may be able to fly across the Atlantic in an aircraft powered by Biscoff cookie wrappers, emptied boxes of Keebler Animal Crackers, and spent cans of Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix.

Okay, not really, but that’s the general idea behind a first-of-its-kind partnership between British Airways and Washington, D.C.-based Solena Fuels that aims to transform household waste into jet fuel for flights departing London City Airport for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.

As reported by Scientific American, British Airways will buy Solena’s “sustainable aviation fuel” over an 11-year span at “market competitive prices.” As part of the waste-to-jet fuel partnership, Solena will produce 50,000 metric tons of the stuff annually at a yet-to-be-built 20-acre facility located at the former Coryton oil refinery site east of London in Thurrock, Essex (they couldn't have secured a more apropos spot if they tried). Yet-to-be-secured garbage haulers will supply the new facility with the normally landfill- or incinerator-bound raw materials needed to produce the fuel.

British Airways estimates that the long-delayed scheme, dubbed GreenSky London, will result in a staggering 575,000 metric tons of household rubbish (minus recyclables and the toxic stuff) being steered clear of U.K. landfills.

Says Willie Walsh, honcho of British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group, in a news release issued by the company:

We are always striving to reduce our impact on climate change and this first-of-its-kind project marks a significant step for the aviation industry. The construction of the GreenSky London fuel facility at Thames Enterprise Park will lay the foundations for British Airways to reduce its carbon emissions significantly. The sustainable jet fuel produced each year will be enough to power our flights from London City Airport twice over with carbon savings the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road.

The creation of permanent green jobs, the diversion of a massive amount of waste from landfills, the avoidance of increasingly costly fossil fuels, and some serious emissions slashing — all brilliant stuff, but what sort of wizardry is behind this? According to Doc Brown British Airways, Solena will harness “patented high temperature plasma gasification technology” that converts waste into a synthetic gas. From there, the gas will be cleaned, conditioned, and converted into liquid hydrocarbons in a process called Velocys Fischer-Tropsch, the same process used to transform coal or natural gas into liquid fuel.

All in all, the rubbish-based biofuel being produced at the GreenSky London plant has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 95 percent compared to traditional fossil fuels and put a serious damper on the potent methane emissions generated by trash decomposing in London-area landfills.

Don’t expect to hop across the pond in a garbage-powered Boeing quite yet because, as mentioned, the GreenSky London production facility has yet to be built — it’s due to be completed in 2017. And one big question that has yet to be addressed: Will transatlantic flights that burn rubbish-based biofuel translate to lower fares for B.A. customers? Given that an exorbitant chunk of a commercial airlines’ operating costs are gobbled up by soaring fuel prices, that could, fingers-crossed, very well be the case.

Via [Scientific American]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Trash-atlantic flights: British Airways announces waste-to-jet fuel scheme
British Airways partners with an American biofuel firm to build a massive facility outside of London that will produce garbage-based jet fuel.