British pilot Jeremy Rowsell is set to fly solo from Sydney to London in a Cessna 182 aircraft powered solely by diesel derived from "end-of-life" plastic (ELP) waste. If all goes to plan, the endeavor will set a new record time for the journey in a single-engine piston plane, and represent a compelling argument for the viability of ELP as a fuel source.
The project, dubbed "On Wings of Waste," was conceived following longtime pilot Rowsell’s growing concern about the role that the aviation industry plays in harming the environment, in addition to the larger problem of pollution in general. To bring attention to the practicability of recycled plastic as a fuel source, Rowsell teamed up with Cynar PLC, an Irish company that converts ELP into synthetic diesel.
Gizmag spoke with Cynar CEO Michael Murray via telephone, who explained that the company converts ELP typically destined for landfills into useful diesel. The conversion involves pyrolysis, which is the process of thermal degradation of a material in the absence of oxygen – so heating, but no burning, takes place.
ELP is broken down into gases by the pyrolysis process, then put through a specially-designed condenser system in order to produce a mixture equivalent to petroleum distillates. This is then further treated to produce liquid fuel, while leftover gases are diverted back into the furnaces which heat the plastics. Interestingly, the diesel produced by this method is actually claimed more efficient and lower in sulfur than generic diesel.
The only waste material left over from the ELP-to-diesel conversion process is roughly five percent char, which can also be put to use in the building industry for concrete and tile manufacturing.
Each Cynar plant can produce up to 19,000 liters (around 5,000 US gallons) of fuel from 20 tons of ELP per day. For the roughly 4,000 liters (1,000 US gallons) of fuel that Rowsell’s flight will consume, approximately five tons of waste plastic will be recycled.
Cynar’s tech is being incorporated into several worldwide waste recycling firms, enabling such companies to convert ELP into diesel themselves. In addition, Cynar has penned an agreement with the UK’s Loughborough University to in a bid to further advance research on the subject.
While the diesel produced by Cynar’s recycling process has been used many times in vehicles, Rowsell’s flight will be the first time it has been used to power an airborne journey.
The pilot will follow in the footsteps of aviation pioneers such as Charles Kingsford-Smith and Bert Hinkler. He'll be flying for stretches of up to 13 hours at a time, usually at around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), while crossing massive swathes of land and sea, for a total of around 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km)
The ambitious voyage is scheduled to take place this coming July.