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The Flight of the Landfill

Posted on Wed, Mar 13, 2013

Alternative fuels have gained a great deal of attention recently, including in aviation. Rising fuel costs are a highly discussed topic. Solving aviation’s rising fuel costs has lead to the need for alternative fuels. The creation of these fuels requires innovation, ingenuity and an open mind. This leads us to an intrepid Aussie who proposed a better way to fuel his plane, plastic. What better way to test the fuel with a trans hemispherical journey.

Jeremy Rowsell is an airplane enthusiast from Australia who is planning a 12,00 mile journey to try to highlight the waste that comes from plastics. Rowsell told GE’s Ecomagination site that when he flies, he frequently sees a ton of garbage down in the ocean. “You look down at the garbage in the pacific, and you see the result of what it’s doing. I’m doing this because I believe that unless we do something to give back to the planet, we’re stuffed.”


Jeremy intends to take Cessna 172 single engine plane on a flight from Sydney, Australia to London, England while using plastic as his fuel. Yes, you read that right; he intends to use plastic as the fuel for his plane. The plastic he will be using is considered “end-of-life” plastic, which would typically be destined for the trash bin or a landfill near you. The plastic will be treated through a process called pyrolsis, which is the process of carefully heating the plastic in an oxygen free environment, resulting a substance similar to refined petroleum. Then, like regular avgas, the substance goes through further refinement to make the fuel ready for aviation uses. This fuel ends up similar to a diesel fuel. To complete his journey, Rowsell and his team have gathered a large amount of Pacific Ocean trash and sent it to an Irish company named Cynar PLC, who will conduce the actual conversion.


When most new aviation fuels are tested by airlines, they use a 30%-50% blend. Jeremy will be making his flight with 100% plastic. This will be the fuels first real world test.


Untested fuel is one of the many challenges that Jeremy and his team will face.


Jeremy’s journey is over 12,000 miles long and anybody who has flown a conventional Cessna 172 knows that the fuel range is nowhere near what it would need to make the journey without plenty of fuel stops. Getting the fuel to his stops has proposed one of the largest logistical problems for the team. Getting fuel to some of his stops, such as London or Sydney, are fairly easy but with proposed stops on Christmas Island or at political hotbeds such as Jordan and Oman, the task gets much more difficult. Also, Jeremy will be making the flight solo to save weight but this will force him to combat loneliness and, with many legs stretching over 13 hours, he will need to battle fatigue on a regular basis. There will no doubt be additional pressure as he works to make this venture a success.


Jeremy’s goal for the flight is to show that waste can be reasonably used as fuel. He hoes that in doing this, he will bring a new fuel to the market. If successful, it is amazing to think that today’s environment harming garbage could be used broadly throughout aviation, even for life saving flights such as reconnaissance work or rescue missions.


To follow Rowsell’ Journey, follow his twitter account. He will also be checking in on Google maps as the flight progresses. Originally, he had planned on taking this flight in October of 2012 but fuel-processing delays have pushed the flight back and he is hoping to start the journey early this year.

Tags: Aviation News

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