JAL giving old clothes new life as jet fuel
Biofuel technology promises green energy from cotton, paper waste
TOKYO -- Japan Airlines aims to turn used clothing into jet fuel with the help of environmental firms and retailers, putting the alternative energy source to the test as early as 2020.
The airline will join with Jeplan, or Japan Environmental Planning, and the Tokyo-based Green Earth Institute to set up a collaborative council for the project as soon as early 2017. Jeplan already works with 12 retailers such as Aeon and Muji operator Ryohin Keikaku to collect used clothing at 1,000 or so stores around Japan, recycling the polyester within. Now, cotton from the clothing will be made into fuel with help from technology at GEI.
GEI was founded to put biofuel technologies developed by the government-backed Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth to practical use. These include a method of using microorganisms to process sugars contained in cotton into alcohols that can be made into fuel.
An experimental fuel plant will be built at a Jeplan factory. The plan is to begin test flights using a blend of conventional and cotton-derived fuel in 2020, and to have a commercial plant up and running by 2030.
One hundred tons of cotton yields 10 kiloliters of fuel. Even if all the cotton consumed in Japan were used in fuel production, this would give only 70,000kl or so annually -- less than 1% of Japan's jet fuel usage. But GEI's technology can also be made to run on waste from such facilities as paper mills. The company sees clothing as only the beginning of a broad waste-conversion effort.
Making fuel from organic sources such as cotton still releases carbon dioxide, for example at the refining stage. But emissions are said to be less than half those from fossil-fuel production. Replacing conventional jet fuel with biofuel, even in part, would help shrink emissions associated with air travel as global efforts to combat climate change gather speed.
Japan Airlines is at work on other efforts to turn urban waste such as garbage into fuel as well. These aim to create a stable supply of alternative fuels with prices rivaling those of petroleum products.