Fat and Sugarcane: Airplanes Will Fly on Fuel Made from

 Will we can ever be able to fly planes on fuel made from fat and cane sugar?

Rs the politician next to Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson pulled out his phone for a selfie. Richard peered into the camera with a smile and gave a thumbs up.

This was because the flight used 100percent  biofuel and became the world first commercial airliner to cross the Atlantic Ocean. landing in New York at the time.

fly planes on fuel made from fat and cane sugar
planes on fuel

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 aircraft were powered by fuel made from plant sugars (such as sugar cane) and waste fat instead of gasoline. This fuel is a form of sustainable aviation fuel SAF).

The UK MP posted a smiling selfie of himself with Branson on social media site X formerly Twitter. along with calling the flight a significant achievement for British aviation. The flight was partially funded by the UK government.

But not everyone is so sure that this represents pure biofuel flight of the future.

Biofuels require a wide range of biological sources, including plants. Perishable foods and even algae. When biofuels are burned. They release carbon dioxide. Some scientists consider them a sustainable option because they are renewable and when biomass grows. They work to reduce some carbon from the atmosphere.

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Problem is the volume of biomass needed to power the fuel intensive aviation industry.

An academic paper published in August estimated that if you were to grow and use sugar cane to make biofuel for commercial aircraft, you would need 125 million hectares (482,000 square miles) of land. It will be equal to the total area of  Washington, ​​California, Oregon, Nevada and Louisiana or say more than the entire area of ​​Pakistan.

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York runs on biofuel, a record

This means a lot of land. Some experts say that even if you try to use only biomass waste sources, the world’s waste will not be enough to keep all the world planes in the air.

The airline industry is currently responsible for about 3.5% of greenhouse gas emission. Equivalent to the emissions of a country like Japan, and is one of the world highest carbon emitting sectors.

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What they are doing is pretty significant says David Lee. Professor of environmental science at Manchester Metropolitan University. They are just saying that the flight is perfectly safe, there is no problem with the fuel.

David Lee has studied the impact of aviation on climate and is co author of a paper on the feasibility of switching to SF fuel.

By switching to SAF you can reduce carbon emissions by about 70 percent. However, it also depends on which biofuels you are using.

Lee noted that international regulations currently do not allow flights using more than 50 percent SAF as fuel. And for this Virgin Atlantic received special permission from the United kingdom Civil Aviation Authority to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Permission had to be obtained.

All these are evidences of the successful concept of this fuel but today it would be difficult to fuel more than one flight with 100 Percent SAF.

You can’t get that fuel easily, Lee says. Even if you want to test the engine, it is difficult to buy this fuel.

Algae or moss can also generate energy, but caution is required

This is a problem that Virgin Atlantic also acknowledges. Only 0.1percent of all aviation fuel used is SAF fuel.

The International Air Transport Association has predicted that the airline industry will need 450 billion liters of SAF fuel by 2050. Compared to only 300 million liters of SAF fuel produced in 2022.

To date, however the SAF has helped fuel hundreds of flights, at least partially.

U.S. SAF production is projected to reach 2.1 billion gallons 7.9 billion liters) annually by 2030. Well short of President Biden goal of producing 3 billion gallons (11.3 billion liters) of fuel annually by that year.

Scaling up SAF production is difficult. In a Royal Society report published earlier this year, Lee and colleagues analyzed the UK’s ability to produce its own SAF for commercial flights.

We concluded that there really wasn’t enough land for it he said.

Management consultant McKinsey and  Company estimates that competition for land is fierce worldwide and we will need an additional 70-80 million hectares of land globally by 2030, an area larger than the US United States state of Texas.

The majority 70% of this new cropland is needed to grow crops for livestock feed. According to McKinsey, only 10% of the total required acreage will go to biofuel production.

For example some of the SAF comes from waste fat and some from the food manufacturing process. Reliance on such sources could theoretically reduce the need to expand crop cultivation to produce biofuels.

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