Human waste isn’t typically considered particularly useful, but when it comes to fueling airplanes, it might actually be a game-changer. According to researchers, discarded “wet waste” materials — organic waste including human waste, animal manure, and wastewater sludge, Inverse explains — can be converted into biofuel to power jets.
The research team led by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describing how to convert wet waste into paraffin, which is used in aviation fuel. Their findings could make it easier to power jets with greener, more eco-friendly fuel.
Unlike traditional production methods for biofuels, the new approach described in the study uses a chemical process to efficiently remove excess water from wet waste and then isolates the combustible materials needed to make fuel. This method could potentially cut aviation emission levels by 165 percent. Since the aviation industry contributes two-and-a-half percent of all the planet’s greenhouse gases, this would be a significant improvement.
According to the authors of the study, “While renewable natural gas targets an enormous US market, producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels from wet waste offers the potential to address the challenge of decarbonizing the aviation sector.”
Although the team has only tested a few hundred milliliters of the new sustainable fuel so far — not nearly enough to power a commercial jet — further research will be conducted with the aim of making the future of jet fuel more sustainable.