UK startup lifts lid on plan to turn human waste into jet fuel

(The Guardian, 11 Apr 2024) Low-cost airline Wizz Air puts in 525,000-tonne order for product of Firefly’s proposed refinery in Essex.

Aircraft could one day take off on fuel made from human waste under plans revealed by Wizz Air and the British sustainable aviation company Firefly to build a commercial refinery in Essex.

Firefly, based in Bristol, said it had developed a process to convert treated sewage into sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

The low-cost airline Wizz said it was investing by placing an order – potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds – for up to 525,000 tonnes of Firefly’s waste-based fuel over the next 15 years.

Firefly has now signed agreements with industrial partners for a pilot refinery in Harwich that would take “biosolids” from Anglian Water and turn it into aircraft fuel. Airlines will have to ensure that a minimum proportion of fuel burned is certified sustainable in the coming decade, with the EU mandating at least 20% SAF by 2035, and the UK expected soon to announce a mandatory 10% by 2030.

There are various ways of making SAF but most are much more expensive than normal kerosene jet fuel, with a limited supply of waste feedstocks such as used cooking oil.

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The Guardian, 11 Apr 2024: UK startup lifts lid on plan to turn human waste into jet fuel