We have all been reading about the virtues of using recycled vegetable oil to power everything from lawn mowers to diesel engines for years now. Actually, Rudolph Diesel, the inventor of the Diesel engine, designed his famed engine to actually run on vegetable oil, not gasoline, and hoped this fuel option would make his engines more attractive to farmers with a source of fuel readily available. In the more recent past much has been made about bio-diesel, bioliquids, greasestock, etc, all of which, with a little modification, promise to offer a plentiful supply of crude oil alternatives to power just about anything that is crude oil dependent. But besides some of the modest gains for vegetable oil as fuel into the mainstream, the practice hasn’t been widely adopted and still remains largely a fringe endeavor, until now.
There have been a few significant developments of recent (albeit most of them are over in Europe and the United States has, once again, revealed itself to be quite slow on the draw with these issues) and we may be seeing recycled vegetable oil, not clogging our drains, but flying our planes. In what appears to be a gesture in the right direction, Air France-KLM has announced that it will start flying planes in September using a blend of kerosene and used cooking oil, starting with relatively short flights between Paris and Amsterdam. Jet travel, long known for its flagrant and excessive use of fossil fuels, seems to be an ideal and essential spot to introduce a more sustainable way of flight.
In the past, environmental groups have urged consumers to fly less, or as little as possible, in an effort to cut down on fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. It is not entirely clear what percentage of the fuel used for the Air France-KLM flights will be vegetable oil, but during a 2009 test, a 50/50 mix was successfully tested in one of the four Boeing 747′s engines. According to officials at the airline, as quoted in the Miami Herald, It’s important to note, that the use of used cooking oil in no way compromises the safety of an aircraft. The used cooking oil is refined so that it meets precisely the same technical specifications as traditional kerosene. One of the cost-saving benefits to the airline is that its planes require absolutely no modification to embrace the new fuel. Across the English Channel, British carrier Thomson Airways has announced that they will be Britain’s first airline to use biofuel when it launches its service between the UK and Spain in August. Also in the UK, the London accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers announced last month that they would be using recycled cooking oil to power their new eco-friendly offices in the heart of London.
So if the technology is there, and the supply is certainly there, why has it taken so long to get a vat of chip oil to provide heat and/or flight? Does our ability to utilize used cooking oil in industrial applications like heating buildings and flying planes signal a great achievement, or possibly a growing dependence on a limited resource that requires a great deal of processing and refining to make viable? What is your feeling on the matter?