Airplanes are often considered an “efficient” mode of travel because they can transport hundreds of passengers great distances on comparatively little fuel. Alas, they do use quite a bit of jet fuel, and their contribution to overall emissions output is certainly not negligible. When/if oil supplies soon get tight or run out, you can bet the cost of plane tickets will be among the first fares to skyrocket… unless they can come up with a substitute fuel that doesn’t use petroleum.
Sasol Technology claims to have done just that. A plane using their fully-synthetic jet fuel just completed the first ever flight using synthetic fuels by flying 865 miles from Gauteng to Cape Town in South Africa. Is this the start of a new jet age?
I will admit that I am out of my element when it comes to discussing synthetic fuels, so if you know more than me, by all means chime in. From what I can gather from the press release, the A-1 jet fuel is made through a process that turns coal into a liquid, and Sasol claims this produces far fewer emissions than regular petrol-based jet fuel. The thing with jet turbines is that they can run on just about any combustible fluid. How coal can be dramatically cleaner than petrol, I just don’t know. I’m willing to take their word on it for now, and it does provide an important alternative to petrol-based jet fuel.
I just don’t expect there to be widespread adoption of this fuel anytime soon. A jet fuel derived from coal may be cleaner than other jet fuel… but I am sure there are even cleaner alternatives out there being developed. There is something to be said for being first though. Kudos to Sasol.