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Wildcat helicopter hovering over soldiers

Ministry of Defence proposes alternative fuels for its aircraft

Image credit: Ministry of Defence

British military aircraft including F-35s, Typhoons and Wildcat helicopters could soon be fuelled by algae, alcohol and household waste under Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans.

With the government planning to decarbonise the public sector, the move is aimed at reducing the high carbon emissions associated with the military and defence vehicles.

Military aircraft currently use conventional fuel, but up to 50 per cent of this can be replaced with sustainable sources in the future, the MoD said, following changes to aviation fuel standards last month.

Known as ‘drop-ins,’ sustainable fuel sources include hydrogenated fats and oils, wood waste, alcohols, sugars, household waste, biomass and algae.

As aviation currently accounts for nearly two thirds of fuel used across defence, the MoD believes the new standards will lead to a significant reduction in emissions for the military.

It is estimated that by substituting 30 per cent of conventional fuel with an alternative source, a jet travelling 1,000 nautical miles could reduce its CO2 emissions by 18 per cent.

As well as cutting emissions, using diverse and readily available materials such as household waste including packaging, grass cuttings and food scraps will prevent waste being sent to landfill.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The UK is leading the way in sustainability and by refining our aviation fuel standards we are taking simple yet effective steps to reduce the environmental footprint of defence.

“As we strive to meet this Government’s Net Zero carbon emissions target by 2050, it is right that we step up to spearhead these positive changes across both military and civilian sectors.”

With Australia and several Nato countries relying on the UK’s standards to influence what fuel they use, the move could see civil and commercial airlines also adapting to using new fuels.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Making all forms of transport more sustainable is critical if we are to meet our ambitious Net Zero target.

“From powering RAF jets to the passenger planes which get us from A to B, sustainable fuels will play a huge part in decarbonising aviation and I’m excited to explore the possibilities as we make transport cleaner, greener and more efficient.”

The aviation sector is currently one of the most difficult areas to decarbonise due to the need for fuels with a high energy density as a way to keep weight down to allow for lift-off.

Alternatives are in the works, with a passenger plane running on hydrogen power currently in development in Singapore, and EasyJet’s plans to introduce electric aircraft for shorter journeys from 2027.

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