Would you fly in a plane powered by cooking grease?

·2 min read
British Airways jet
British Airways jet

Ever strolled past one of those big, stinking dumpsters of cooking oil behind restaurants and thought, “Hey, I bet that stinky mess could fuel a plane?” You’d be correct: In a move toward sustainability, British Airways will start fueling its planes with cooking oil, The Guardian reports.

Yes, cooking oil. Specifically, something called “sustainable aviation fuel,” or SAF, which The Guardian calls a “low carbon intensity fuel.” It’s derived from vegetable oils, fats, and greases, and it’s apparently powerful enough to send a jet hurtling across the sky. British Airways calls it a “drop-in fuel,” pointing out that it can be “blended with traditional jet fuel or co-processed alongside traditional refinery feedstocks.”

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The airline announced its intention to move toward SAF beginning next year, specifying that SAF has the potential to reduce the airline’s lifecycle carbon emissions by over 80% when compared to traditional jet fuel—specifically, reducing lifecycle carbon emissions by almost 100,000 tons.

Where, you may ask, is the airline getting all this grease? British Airways signed a multi-year contract with Phillips 66 Limited, which will become the first company to produce SAF at a commercial scale in the United Kingdom. And, as The Hill reports, British Airways isn’t alone—Southwest Airlines is also partnering with Phillips 66, signing a “memorandum of understanding” in a push for the commercialization of SAF in the U.S.

Is this a legitimate move toward sustainability for an industry that’s famously horrible for our planet? It’s hard to tell at this point. On one hand, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 2019 that the transportation sector alone accounted for 29% of all US greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, British Airways is only shooting to power 10% of its flights with SAF by 2030, which seems miniscule.

Finally, there’s the consumer comfort aspect. Would you feel safe flying in a grease-powered plane? Feel free to mull it over in the comments.

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