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The Real Environmental Impact of Utilising Used and Waste Oils as Aviation Fuel


Written by ian77256



In recent years, the aviation industry has actively explored alternative fuels to mitigate its environmental impact. One such alternative gaining attention is the use of used cooking oils as aviation fuel. Advocates argue that this biofuel offers a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option compared to traditional fossil fuels. However, a closer examination is necessary to assess whether the use of used cooking oils in aeroplanes is truly as environmentally friendly as the aviation industry claims.

With Virgin Atlantic completing the first trans-Atlantic flights using industry-proclaimed "Sustainable Aviation Fuels" (SAF) we're asking if it's actually a big step forward.

The Promise of Used Cooking Oils as Aviation Fuel

The use of used cooking oils as aviation fuel is part of the broader initiative to develop and adopt biofuels in the aviation sector. Biofuels are derived from renewable biological sources, and used cooking oils represent a potential feedstock for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The appeal of used cooking oils lies in their waste-to-energy conversion, offering a second life to a product that would otherwise be discarded.

Advocates for using used cooking oils as aviation fuel highlight several potential environmental benefits. Firstly, these biofuels are often considered carbon-neutral because the carbon dioxide emitted during combustion is roughly equivalent to the amount absorbed by the plants from which the oils originated. Additionally, using waste cooking oils reduces the environmental impact associated with their disposal, offering a more sustainable end-of-life solution.

Environmental Concerns and Criticisms

While the idea of repurposing waste products for aviation fuel seems promising, there are environmental concerns and criticisms that warrant consideration. The production and use of biofuels, including those derived from used cooking oils, raise questions about land use, water consumption, and overall life cycle emissions.

  1. Land Use and Competition with Food Production: Critics argue that large-scale production of biofuels, even from waste sources, may compete with food production for arable land. If the demand for feedstocks like used cooking oils increases significantly, it could lead to the expansion of agriculture into natural ecosystems, resulting in deforestation and habitat destruction.

  2. Water Consumption: Biofuel production often requires substantial amounts of water, raising concerns about the environmental impact of water consumption in regions already facing water scarcity. The cultivation and processing of crops used to produce biofuels, even from waste oils, can contribute to water stress in certain areas.

  3. Life Cycle Emissions: The life cycle emissions of biofuels are a critical factor in determining their overall environmental impact. While the combustion of biofuels may be carbon-neutral, the production, processing, and transportation of these fuels can still generate greenhouse gas emissions. Assessing the complete life cycle emissions is essential to accurately evaluate the environmental friendliness of using used cooking oils in aviation.

  4. Technological and Infrastructure Challenges: The aviation industry faces significant technological and infrastructural challenges in adopting biofuels on a large scale. The development of efficient and cost-effective processes for producing biofuels from used cooking oils, as well as the need for modifications to existing aircraft and fuelling infrastructure, are obstacles that must be overcome.


In conclusion, the use of used cooking oils as aviation fuel holds promise as a potential solution to reduce the aviation industry's environmental impact. It represents a sustainable way to repurpose waste products and reduce dependence on traditional fossil fuels. However, it is crucial to approach this alternative with a critical perspective, considering the entire life cycle of biofuel production and use and upmost in everyone's mind is that it still emits CO2.

The environmental benefits of using used cooking oils as aviation fuel can be significant if managed responsibly. Mitigating land use conflicts, addressing water consumption concerns, and ensuring that the overall life cycle emissions are minimised are essential steps in maximising the environmental friendliness of this biofuel option. Additionally, ongoing research and technological advancements will play a crucial role in overcoming existing challenges and making biofuels, including those derived from used cooking oils, a more viable and sustainable choice for the aviation industry.

So, yes, it's more sustainable than AvGas, but the most environmental way forward is not to have the flight in the first place as it still emits CO2.