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Recycled plastic waste to fuel Sydney to London Cessna flight


February 26, 2013

Pilot Jeremy Rowsell will be attempting the flight – but not in the aircraft pictured

Pilot Jeremy Rowsell will be attempting the flight – but not in the aircraft pictured

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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.

Sources: At Altitude, Cynar PLC via The Telegraph

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

i agree with sambo. still a great idea...


Other pioneers flew the opposite direction.

Gil Davis

Is its emission better or worse than traditional or bio fuels?.

Sinnadurai Sripadmanaban

ELP would have become fuel in the first place if it had not been diverted to the plastics industry.What is better for the environment: burning the fuel produced by this process,thus releasing more CO2,or putting it in a garbage dump,where the CO2 is permanently locked up?


What engine will the aircraft be using? Normally, aero engines for single engine planes do not digest diesel.

Robert Duckmanton

EAA AirVenture Article by Sarah Brown : http://www.aopa.org/oshkosh/2012/news/120723cessna-unveils-turbodiesel-182.html

"A Cessna 182 powered by a 230-horsepower Jet-A-burning piston engine will be available in the second quarter of 2013, Cessna Aircraft announced July 23.

“This is what the market has been begging for,” he said, calling the aircraft a game changer. Powered by a turbocharged, direct-drive SMA SR305-230E-C1 engine, the Turbo 182 NXT will burn 11 gph at a max cruise speed of 155 knots, Umscheid said, granting owners a lower fuel burn and increased range from avgas counterparts. Cessna estimates that the engine will burn 30 to 40 percent less fuel than comparable avgas engines and have a range of 1,160 nautical miles at max cruise speed. "

(Ed. Read our coverage here: http://www.gizmag.com/cessna-turbo-182-nxt/23465/)

Gyula Bognar

12,000 miles in a single engine plane. Good luck with that!


re; Robert Duckmanton

There have been diesel engines certified for light aviation aircraft for years now. This obviously uses one.

re; JAT

It is probably not all going to be flow in one hop. However the Rutan Voyager made it all the way around the world on only 2 engines. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutan_Voyager

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