Flying on Fat | God's World News

Flying on Fat

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    A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 like this one made a transatlantic crossing using only fat and plant-based aviation fuel. (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via AP)
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    A sailor inspects a jet fuel sample. Most jet fuels are made from crude oil. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David McKee/Released)
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    Workers refuel a plane with fuel made from waste fat and plant sugars for a demonstration flight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2023. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)
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    Facilities like Nigeria’s Dangote Petroleum Refinery produce aviation fuel. (AP/Sunday Alamba)
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Into the wild blue yonder on fat? A commercial airliner flew across the Atlantic Ocean entirely on high-fat, low-emissions fuel for the first time in late November. The flight is being hailed as a step toward achieving what supporters call “jet zero.” But is that even possible?

Fossil fuels account for 81% of the energy used in the United States. But burning carbon-rich materials like coal, oil, and natural gas can create several types of pollution. Advocates for so-called “clean energy” want to develop low-carbon biofuels—ones that provide energy but emit less carbon.

On November 28, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 flight soared from London to New York. It burned zero fossil fuels along the way. Instead, the plane relied on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made mostly of tallow, other waste fats, and plant sugars.

The UK Transport Department called the test a “huge step towards jet zero”—using less fossil fuel for air travel.

Despite the flight’s high-fat hoopla, massive hurdles remain to SAF’s use in the aviation industry.

The main problem is the staggering amount of plant material, food waste, or algae needed to power the commercial jet industry. A 2023 study says it would take about 482,000 square miles of land to grow enough sugar cane to fuel the industry. That’s the combined surface area of California, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington!

Aviation and climate researcher David Lee helped author the study on the climate impact of SAF. Lee believes the Virgin Atlantic flight proves “the flight is perfectly safe; there are no problems with the fuel.” In fact, he says SAF saves about 70% in emissions over fossil fuels.

However, he says obtaining enough SAF fuel to power more than one high-profile flight would be difficult. His research group has trouble getting enough for testing.

Professor of sustainable energy Hannah Daly says even if high-fat SAF could replace fossil fuel in airplanes, it couldn’t keep up with the growth of air travel.

Lee’s study also reveals that in the long term, “SAF production undermines global goals” to limit the effects of carbon emissions. That’s because making SAF would remove plants that help with “nature-based carbon removal.” (Notice God’s handiwork!) That, Lee says, is a problem no one talks about.

Lee’s findings seem to agree with the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) claims. Officials say the aviation industry is making misleading claims about the impact of SAF on emissions.

AEF policy director Cait Hewitt says, “The idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke.”

Why? As people work both to innovate and steward resources well, it’s good also to recognize the brilliance designed into God’s creation.

View a bubble map that shows how one event (such as using fuel made of sugars and fats) can lead to another.

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