University of Sydney develops method to turn landfill gas into SAF

Researchers at the University of Sydney have created a new process that utilises plasma technology to convert methane gas emitted from landfills into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

“Globally, landfills are 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,” said PJ Cullen, professor, University of Sydney School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Net Zero Initiative.

The plasma technology employed is electricity-driven and operates at low temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This translates to lower energy consumption and better compatibility with renewable energy sources.

The process would work by extracting methane from a landfill site, known as a methane well, which uses a shaft-like mechanism to extract gases.

This findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and authored by PJ Cullen, Emma Lovell and Tianqi Zhang.

Research authors argue that the innovation has the potential to revolutionise the aviation industry by offering a low-carbon fuel source.

“Modern landfill facilities already capture, upgrade and combust their gas emissions for electricity generation, however, our process creates a much more environmentally impactful and commercially valuable product,” Professor Cullen added.

Global landfill emissions are estimated at 10–20m tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, a value comparable to the emissions of the global energy sector. Landfills are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with methane being a particularly potent culprit.

This new method tackles this issue head-on by capturing the methane and transforming it into fuel for airplanes, a sector with limited electrification options.

Aviation currently accounts for approximately 3% of the world’s emissions.

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