Low-carbon aviation may take off on landfill gas

Jet airplane refuelling. | Newsreel
Jet fuel made from landfill gas could support a low-carbon aviation industry | Photo: Guven Demir (iStock)

A low-carbon aviation industry is a step closer thanks to a world-first development by researchers at the University of Sydney.

A team led by Professor PJ Cullen has created a chemical process that could create sustainable jet fuel from methane gas emitted from landfills.

The new plasma technique could help create a circular economy for waste-generated methane emissions.

Professor Cullen said methane was a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and landfills around the world were a major emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly a mixture of CO2 and methane.

“We have developed a process that would take these gases and convert them into fuels, targeting sectors that are difficult to electrify, like aviation,” he said.

Professor Cullen said modern landfill facilities already captured, upgraded and combusted their gas emissions for electricity generation.

“However, our process creates a much more environmentally impactful and commercially valuable product.”

He said global landfill emissions were estimated at 10–20 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, which compared to the emissions of the global energy sector, while aviation currently accounted for approximately three percent of the world’s emissions.

“Creating a ‘closed loop’ fuel based on existing emissions would eliminate the need for traditional and sustainable jet fuels, which add further emissions into the atmosphere.”

Read the paper Long-Chain Hydrocarbons from Non-Thermal Plasma-Driven Biogas Upcycling which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.