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How far are we from powering flights with human waste?

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By Christian Webster - - 5 Mins Read
View of an airplane flying overhead
Featured | Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash

Can you imagine a day when airplanes are fueled by, well, human poop? It might sound crazy, but get ready because that day could come sooner than you think!

A company called Firefly has announced plans to build the world's first factory that turns human waste into jet fuel. Mind-blowing, right?

The Poop-to-Fuel Process Explained 

But how exactly do they turn our number twos into sustainable aviation fuel?

It's actually a pretty neat process.

First, they collect all the sewage and biosolids (the fancy name for treated human waste) from water treatment plants. This "black gold" then undergoes a gasification process that converts it into synthesis gas, or syngas. 

The syngas get cleaned up to remove any nasty impurities. Then, it's fed into a catalytic reactor, where the magic happens - the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process transforms the syngas into a crude synthetic oil. This crude oil can finally be refined into jet fuel that's good to go into airplane engines!

Also read: These Traveling Activities Used to be Fun Until Smartphones Ruined Them

Why Poop Power is the Future

Using human waste to create jet fuel has some amazing benefits that make it a game-changer for the aviation industry and the environment:

  • 1) Slashing Carbon Emissions: This sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 70% compared to regular jet fuel. Hello, smaller carbon footprint!
  • 2) From Waste to Wonder Fuel: The ultimate way to reuse and repurpose something that would otherwise be flushed away. Turning trash into treasure, literally!
  • 3) Diversifying Fuel Sources: With SAF, we're not just relying on fossil fuels anymore. That means more stable supplies and prices.
A person walking into a toilet holding a roll of tissue
Photo | Shutterstock

The Ick Factor? What Ick Factor?

You might be thinking, "Eww, fueling planes with poop?!" But here's the thing: the jet fuel created is completely clean and safe.

No different than regular jet fuel, just way greener! As Firefly's CEO James Hygate puts it, "We're turning sewage into jet fuel. I can't really think of many things that are cooler than that."

The Road Ahead for Human Waste Jet Fuel

Firefly has already struck a deal to provide over 500,000 metric tons of SAF to airline Wizz Air over 15 years, once their factory in Essex, UK, is up and running in 2028. Water utility Anglian Water is supplying the first batch of biosolids to get the pilot plant going.

While SAF is currently more expensive than conventional jet fuel, as production scales up, costs should drop. And let's face it, a future with cleaner air, diversified fuel sources, and creative human waste disposal has to be worth it, right?

So next time you're on a flight, just think—the engine might just be getting its power from your own poop! The skies will never look the same again.