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East London sustainable jet-fuel plant set to power BA flights by 2014

Peta Hodge
15th February 2010
A new plant in east London, producing jet fuel from waste biomass, could be powering part of British Airways' fleet from as early as 2014.

The destination for Europe's first sustainable jet-fuel plant has yet to be finally decided, but four sites in the east of London are among those being considered by consultancy group ARCADIS and it is likely that one of these will eventually be chosen, giving rise to the creation of some 1,200 jobs in the area.

The plant will be capable of processing all types of biomass and residue feedstock – mainly sourced from local waste management facilities – and good transport links and a consistent supply of feedstock are prime considerations in choosing a site.

The self contained plant will be developed by the US-based advanced bio energy and biofuels company, Solena Group, and promises to convert 500,000 tonnes of waste per year into 16 million gallons of green jet fuel.

Whatever the plant produces, British Airways has promised to buy. The airline says this should eventually be more than twice the amount needed to make all of British Airways' flights at nearby London City Airport carbon neutral or, to put it another way, equivalent to taking 48,000 cars off the road each year.

The project promises to further cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the volume of methane-producing waste sent to landfill.

Willie Walsh, British Airways' chief executive, said: "This unique partnership with Solena will pave the way for realising our ambitious goal of reducing net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

“We believe it will lead to the production of a real sustainable alternative to jet kerosene. We are absolutely determined to reduce our impact on climate change and are proud to lead the way on aviation's environmental initiatives."

Fueling planes with biofuels could destroy rainforests, warns Friends of the Earth

The project is not without its critics, however. Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said: “Biofuels for cars were meant to be a way of using waste cooking oil, but we ended up trashing rainforests to grow the crops, leading to more – not less – carbon dioxide.

“Fueling planes with biofuels could cause more of the same problems. BA is already backtracking on its claim that it would only use food waste to fuel these planes.”

Asked to comment on this, a spokesperson for British Airways said: “We are using all types of waste, destined for landfill, for our partnership with Solena.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson working with BA and Solena

Certainly Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, sees the plant as a way to reduce the amount of the capital’s waste going to landfill and is keen that a London site should be chosen.

“City Hall has been working with British Airways and Solena to drive this project forward to help untap the massive potential to generate cleaner, less polluting energy from waste, otherwise destined for landfill,” he said.

“We are working to bring together more organisations in this way to harvest the capital's rubbish to fuel homes, businesses and even transport."

Last year the Mayor launched the 'Foodwaste to Fuel Alliance' with the aim of speeding up the development of infrastructure to convert London's food waste into eco-fuel in order to cut landfill rates and carbon emissions.

The Mayor wants the Alliance, supported by London's Waste and Recycling Board, to deliver five exemplar new 'biofuel' plants in the capital by 2012.

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East London sustainable jet-fuel plant set to power BA flights by 2014
British Airways is backing Europe's first green jet-fuel plant to be based in East London
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