University College London wins BA Future of Fuels challenge

Airline’s centenary year programme called on British universities to develop sustainable fuels.

University College London has been announced by British Airways as the winner of its BA 2119: Future…


Airline’s centenary year programme called on British universities to develop sustainable fuels.

University College London has been announced by British Airways as the winner of its BA 2119: Future of Fuels challenge.

To celebrate its centenary this year, BA launched the BA 2119: Flight of the Future programme, exploring the next 100 years in aviation for fuels, careers and customer experience.

The BA 2119: Future of Fuels challenge, in collaboration with Cranfield University, was launched in November 2018 and called on British universities to develop new or different pathways to achieve global leadership in the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

The airline posed the question of how to power a long-haul flight for at least five hours and produce zero CO2 emissions.

After six months of competition, 11 universities were whittled down to a final three, which included teams from Heriot-Watt, the London School of Economics (LSE) and University College London (UCL).

The three finalists presented their solutions to an expert judging panel, including representatives from the Department for Transport and Cranfield University. Team entries were judged on a combination of criteria including carbon reduction potential, level of innovation, value to the UK economy and feasibility to implement.

$400 million investment

IAG, British Airways’ parent company, will invest a total of $400 million into alternative sustainable fuel development over the next 20 years.

British Airways is also the first airline in Europe to invest in building a plant with renewable fuels company, Velocys, which converts organic household waste into renewable jet fuel to power its fleet.

UCL’s solution would turn household waste into jet fuel, building plants to convert the waste near landfill sites across the country.

The team estimates that this could deliver 3.5 million tonnes of jet fuel annually by 2050, resulting in negative emissions and the equivalent of taking more than 5.5 million cars off the road every year.

British Airways Chairman and CEO Alex Cruz presented the winning team with its prize. UCL will receive £25,000 and an invitation to present to the IAG Board, as well as at two of the largest sustainable aviation conferences in the world – the IATA Alternative Fuels Symposium in New Orleans in November and the Annual Sustainability Summit in Montreal later this month.

Converting household waste to aviation fuel

Alex Cruz, chairman and chief executive of British Airways, said BA was “determined” to play its part in finding solutions to help reduce aviation emissions which contribute two per cent of CO2 emissions globally.

He added that the airline had invested in 18 new aircraft which are up to 20 per cent more fuel efficient last year, with a further 69 deliveries between now and 2025.

Cruz said: “There is a huge opportunity for the UK to be a global leader in sustainable aviation fuels. We know that there is a future for electrification, a pathway for organic household waste to sustainable jet fuel and this competition addresses what other pathways there could be to decarbonise aviation. This winning proposal from UCL is incredibly exciting and we look forward to exploring it with them.”

Doctor Massimiliano Materazzi, research fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering at UCL said: “We were so excited just to make it through to the final – but to receive the top prize is overwhelming. This is evidence that airlines are taking this challenge seriously and are starting to actively engage with academia to find sustainable solutions. We look forward to progressing our concept which will hopefully see the development of the fuel of the future.”

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