Daily Express

Powering planes on plastic waste is no flight of fancy

- Brian Ablett Inventor and Entreprene­ur ●Brian Ablett, founder & CEO of Advanced Hydrocarbo­n Fuel Ltd (AHFL), is a UK-based inventor and entreprene­ur

THE FIRST transatlan­tic flight to run entirely on alternativ­e fuels landed in New York City last month. It was a landmark for the Sustainabl­e Aviation Fuel (SAF) consortium supported by the Department of Transport, that aims to make air travel greener.

However, the headlines only captured part of the story. Virgin Atlantic Flight100 used a dual blend fuel – from waste fats, and plant sugars – that, when processed to scale, would wreak havoc on the UK’s agricultur­al sector – not to mention the environmen­t. Even worse, it’s more expensive than traditiona­l aviation fuel. So what then is the alternativ­e?

Environmen­tal groups have long argued that to combat the climate crisis, we need to stop flying altogether. But that would mean stopping students from meeting grandparen­ts over Christmas or banning families enjoying their first holiday. It isn’t realistic, or practical. We need to find alternativ­es that are not only less polluting, but also more cost-effective. If the UK is serious about becoming a global pioneer in SAF, we need to find raw materials to power airplanes.

Enter an unlikely saviour – waste plastic. Advanced Hydrocarbo­n Fuels Limited (AHFL), a company I founded in 2014 to transform the way we turn waste into fuel, has spent the last decade perfecting technology that converts plastic into Keroclean®. Ours is the only commercial­ly viable fuel that, when mixed with diesel, can power everything from tractors to marine vessels – and, in preliminar­y tests, aircraft too.

WASTE plastic is the ideal raw material to make SAF. It’s everywhere and nobody knows what to do with it. Each day wasted in finding alternativ­e uses results in unpreceden­ted amounts of plastic piling up in landfills, entering our water, and seeping into topsoil. And the crisis is only getting worse.

With the COP28 deliberati­ons in the UAE coming to a close earlier this week, attention will refocus towards negotiatio­ns on a global treaty to combat plastic pollution. After three sessions ended in a stalemate, the fourth, and final, session of the Intergover­nmental Negotiatio­n Committee on plastic pollution will be held in Canada in April.

Without a sensible approach that brings both business and climate change activists on board, this session will also end in a washout. But here also is a clear opportunit­y for the UK to take a leading role, not only in tackling the plastic problem, but in the developmen­t of a truly sustainabl­e, economical and scalable form of alternativ­e fuel.

Unfortunat­ely, AHFL – and our peers – are being held back by archaic policy frameworks, created in response to outdated EU regulation­s. As a result, plastic and other waste materials are not currently classified as a renewable energy source.

Some steps are being taken in the right direction.

In 2022, the Department of Transport launched the landmark Advanced Fuels Fund to competitiv­ely allocate £135million in grant funding. Winning proposals announced earlier this month include a plant converting forestry waste and another converting green hydrogen into aircraft fuel.

These would potentiall­y boost the UK’s ability to generate 810,000 tonnes of SAF – “enough to fly around the equator of Earth an estimated 3,108 times”. Yet as exciting as this is, we need to be realistic in that it’s still a fraction of the fuel required to power a nearly $400billion industry.

And despite airlines being allowed to use up to 50 per cent in a blend, current varieties of SAF only account for 0.1 per cent of global aviation fuel. So the success of Flight100 is a shot in the arm for the Department of Transport’s bet on Sustainabl­e Aviation Fuel.

NOW, it’s time to think bigger and more decisively. That means a dramatic energy policy overhaul that prioritise­s alternativ­e feedstocks for alternativ­e fuel.

As an inventor and entreprene­ur, I’ve spent the past four decades trying to find a pragmatic approach towards the climate crisis, and I know a good opportunit­y. Taking advantage requires us to acknowledg­e the gravity of the problem while advocating for phased and economical­ly realistic action.

Whether we like it or not, the aviation industry is here to stay. And the only alternativ­e to shutting it down is to make it greener. If the UK can do this, whilst presenting a viable option for removing waste plastic from the environmen­t, we truly can achieve something.

‘The alternativ­e to shutting down aviation is to make it greener’

 ?? ?? FLYING START: Richard Branson’s aircraft reached New York using sustainabl­e fuel
FLYING START: Richard Branson’s aircraft reached New York using sustainabl­e fuel
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