UK’s Largest Airports Group urges focus on SAF production over household waste electricity – Travel And Tour World

Each year, approximately 8.5 million tonnes of household waste are incinerated to generate electricity, as noted by transport sustainability experts at ICF. Additionally, another 7.3 million tonnes are incinerated without any energy recovery.

Rather than burning this waste for electricity production, it could be utilized to produce Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) at new refineries throughout the UK. This approach would provide airports with a direct supply of SAF while simultaneously generating tens of thousands of new green jobs.

Research conducted by ICF indicates that the carbon emissions reduction achieved by using household waste to produce SAF would be at least five times greater than that achieved by incinerating the same waste for electricity generation.

SAF derived from waste emits 89% less carbon compared to burning conventional jet fuel. Consequently, utilizing waste to produce SAF results in significantly larger carbon emission reductions compared to incinerating it for electricity, especially considering that nearly 50% of the UK’s electricity already originates from renewable sources.

The emissions reduction from waste-to-energy generation is anticipated to diminish over time, eventually reaching zero, as the UK progresses towards sourcing all its electricity from renewable sources by 2035.

According to the research, if all the waste currently incinerated in the UK were used to produce SAF instead, the carbon savings would be equivalent to the emissions from at least 46 million people flying from London Stansted Airport to Madrid annually.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has authorized councils to redirect the waste they collect towards SAF production. Many disposal contracts are set for renewal in the upcoming months and years.

This development, as highlighted by MAG, presents an exciting opportunity not only to reduce carbon emissions from air travel but also to establish a domestic SAF production industry in the UK, potentially creating up to 60,000 jobs.

Ken O’Toole. CEO of MAG – which runs Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports and commissioned the ICF study – said:

“It is proven that SAF has the capability to power the planes of the future and will be instrumental in the decarbonisation of air travel in the coming years.

“The benefits of turning household waste into SAF are clear – it’s better for the environment, reducing emissions by at least five times more than using it to make electricity.  It can also contribute to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs and be a significant driver in helping UK aviation reach its target of net zero by 2050.

“It is vital that we use household waste in the most efficient way we can to help reduce carbon emissions. But the simple fact is, by continuing to incinerate waste to make electricity we’re missing out on an important opportunity to cut the UK’s carbon emissions.

“By using household waste to make SAF, we can scale up our domestic SAF production and ensure that air travel – which delivers so many economic and social benefits – remains affordable and on a path to net zero.”

According to Defra regulations, local councils are advised to prioritize the disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW) through recycling or re-use, followed by options such as landfilling or energy and fuel production.

ICF data indicates that the UK collects approximately 27.3 million tonnes of MSW annually, making it a significant domestic resource for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), surpassing agricultural waste.

Out of this amount, 8.5 million tonnes are utilized for electricity generation, while another 7.3 million tonnes are directly incinerated without energy recovery.

Research suggests that the carbon emission reduction achieved by converting waste into SAF could be at least five times greater than that from incinerating the same waste for electricity. This analysis assumes an optimal scenario where incinerators capture both power and heat, a feature not universally present in UK facilities. Additionally, it considers a low non-biogenic content of 4% in the waste stream.

Converting one tonne of waste into energy would save 89 kilograms of carbon compared to the average emissions from UK grid electricity production, 56% of which was sourced from low-carbon means in 2022. Alternatively, using the same tonne of waste for SAF production could result in a 453 kilograms CO2e reduction compared to traditional jet fuel emissions.

This reduction is achieved because the carbon utilized for SAF already exists within the economy, obviating the need for additional fossil fuel extraction.

While Defra allows local authorities to prioritize fuel production over energy-from-waste and incineration, existing disposal contracts limit the MSW available for new SAF plants. The limitation could lead to the US and Europe surpassing the UK in attracting investments for SAF production, posing a risk to the creation of around 60,000 high-quality jobs in the UK.

The Sustainable Aviation industry aims to build 14 SAF plants across the UK, with the Government committed to having five under construction by 2025. Initiatives like the partnership between Manchester Airport and Fulcrum BioEnergy UK signal progress, potentially providing up to 10% of the airport’s fuel from SAF.

Recent advancements include the first transatlantic flight powered solely by SAF and the UK Government’s mandate requiring 10% SAF usage in airline fuel by 2030. SA’s decarbonization roadmap targets SAF to deliver 39% of aviation emissions reduction by 2050, contributing an estimated £11bn to the UK economy.

With both major UK political parties pledging net-zero electricity generation by 2035, carbon-positive practices will need to be phased out. MAG, the UK’s largest airports group, is committed to achieving net-zero operations by 2038 through its sustainability strategy ‘Working together for a brighter future’, owning and operating airports such as Manchester, London Stansted, and East Midlands.

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