Airlines see the flight, which is supported by government funding, as demonstrating that a greener way of flying is possible. But a lack of fuel supply remains a challenge, while other technology will be needed to hit emissions targets.
The flight is a one-off of its kind so far, and is not carrying fare-paying passengers. So-called sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) can be made from a variety of sources, including crops, household waste and cooking oils.
For this flight, a Boeing 787 will be filled with 50 tonnes of SAF. Two types are being used, with 88% derived from waste fats and the rest from the wastes of corn production in the US.
SAF is already used in small amounts, blended with traditional jet fuel, but accounts for less than 0.1% of the aviation fuel consumed around the world. It currently costs more than kerosene, and relatively small amounts are made. Aircraft are usually only allowed to use up to 50% in a blend.
There are no dedicated commercial SAF plants in the UK, although the UK government recently (17 November 2023) announced it was supporting 9 projects in the latest round of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Advanced Fuels Fund (AFF).
The full £135 million AFF pot is designed to help companies convert waste materials and by-products – such as household waste like cooking oil and industrial gases – into fuels. It can also help achieve greenhouse gas emissions savings of more than 70% compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.
This round’s winning projects include a demo plant converting sawmill and forestry waste and a commercial plant using power-to-liquid technology to convert CO2 and green hydrogen into plane fuel. Together, both projects could create over 70,000 tonnes of SAF a year.
As a result, the UK could soon have the capability to produce up to 810,000 tonnes of SAF – enough to fly around the equator of Earth an estimated 3,108 times, it claims