Your next flight might be powered by coke–coal and petroleum coke, that is. Airlines including American, Delta, Lufthansa, and US Airways have signed a deal with alternative energy company Rentech to buy 500,000 barrels of jet fuel each month made from coal and petroleum coke, a waste product from refineries.
It sounds like another win for the CO2-spewing coal industry, but Rentech claims that its jet fuel actually releases fewer carbon emissions than jet fuel currently in use. And by using jet fuel from a reliable source like coal, airlines are protected from the volatile oil market–and that might mean more stable flight prices.
Rentech’s coal-based fuel will be produced at a Mississippi-based plant. Eventually, the plant will also generate fuel from biomass (i.e. woodchips). Biomass-based fuel has an even lower carbon footprint than coal-based fuel since woodchips come from trees instead of CO2-heavy refining processes.
The Mississippi plant isn’t the only project in Rentech’s pipeline. The company also operates a California plant that is turning woodchips into diesel fuel for airline ground operations, and Rentech recently received a Department of Energy grant to help produce renewable synthetic fuels from biomass.