Cotton-derived jet fuel, made from old clothes, expected to go on trial in Japan in 2020

A cotton-derived alternative energy source, which involves transforming used clothing into jet fuel – is expected to be trialled by Japan Airlines next year.

It is hoped the unique recycling project will make a big difference in a country that disposes of 1.97 million tons of textiles annually – roughly enough to fill three baseball stadiums.

Japan Airlines has partnered with recycling firm Japan Environmental Planning, Jeplan, and Tokyo’s Green Earth Institute (GEI) to establish a collaborative council to begin testing the cotton-derived alternative energy source by 2020.

This project will take cotton from the clothing and turn it into fuel with help from GEI. The test flights, which are expected to begin next year, will use a blend of conventional and cotton-derived fuel. Japan Airlines hopes cotton-derived jet fuel will help reduce carbon emissions associated with air travel.

One hundred tons of cotton yields just 10 kilolitres of fuel. Even if all the cotton consumed annually in Japan were used in fuel production, this would give only 70,000kl or so – less than 1% of Japan’s yearly jet fuel usage. But GEI’s technology can also be used to process waste from paper mills and other facilities.

Making fuel from organic sources such as cotton still releases carbon dioxide, for example at the refining stage. But emissions are estimated 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.

One hundred tons of cotton yields an estimated 10 kilolitres of fuel. It has been calculated that recycling all of Japan’s cotton could generate 70 000 kilolitres of fuel every year.

There is also plans to build an experimental fuel plant at a Jeplan factory. Commercial production should be up and running by 2030.

Jeplan is already working with 12 retailers – including Aeon and Muji parent Ryohin Keikaku – to collect end-of-life clothing at more than 1000 stores across the country.

Japan Airlines is also at work on other efforts to turn urban waste, such as garbage, into fuel. The aim is to create a stable supply of alternative fuels with prices rivaling those of petroleum products.

Image: © Japan Airlines

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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