Scientists are making jet fuel from landfill gas

What if carbon dioxide and methane emitted from landfill could power an aeroplane and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time?

Researchers at an Australian university said they have developed a chemical process that could produce sustainable aviation fuel from gases emitted from landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And it could help the aviation industry meet its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

“I think the impact is very significant because unusually you have a win-win approach here.”

This is PJ Cullen, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Sydney.

He said he’s developed a method that takes greenhouse gases – like CO2 and methane – and converts them into fuel through a chemical process using plasma.

“In one sense, we have this idea that we’re going to be capturing emissions that are coming from landfill. On the other, we have a sector that really needs a new technology in order to become more sustainable. The aviation industry accounts for approximately three percent of the world’s emissions. So clearly, you cannot get to net zero without producing some sustainable solutions.”

Sustainable aviation fuel is typically five times more expensive than traditional jet fuel.

Cullen is hoping that will change with the new process.

“We’re able to take cheap or maybe even free electricity through a conversion process and produce useful chemicals.”

Meanwhile, the methane being used in the process also helps solve another key issue in sustainability:

Methane emissions from human activities have driven about a third of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution.

Richard Kirkman is the CEO of waste management company Veolia for Australia and New Zealand.

He thinks all of Australia’s waste could one day be converted into energy.

“All the household waste, all the biowaste, all the sludges from water treatment – you can convert it into energy. That can supplement about 10 percent of Australia’s energy supply. That’s a massive amount in terms of mitigating climate change. // This site produces 2 million cubes of methane every year and that’s enough to make 500,000 barbecue gas bottles. That’s a lot of sausage.”

Cullen said the new method still needs to be scaled and incorporated into established workflows.

“What’s good about the process is actually it’s very consistent so we can model how much gas will be coming off with these landfills per year.”