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Airline Turns to a Surprising Source for Their Biofuel Upgrade

United Airlines will reportedly be able to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent with their new green gas.

Image via Flickr user US Department of Agriculture

Of all the ways to travel, airplanes tend to be the fastest and the safest—as well as the most wasteful. For a long time, the industry has been criticized for producing excessive amounts of greenhouse gases. That’s why United Airlines came up with a brilliant idea: instead of soaking up so much energy, they would create a special biofuel made out of food waste, and use it to power their planes. The technology is in its finishing stages, and United is expected to be flying planes—fueled by animal fat!—sometime later this summer.

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Recycled Cooking Oil Could Be The Key To Flying Friendlier Chinese Skies

China’s underground cooking-oil trade could provide almost five hundred million gallons of biofuel annually

image via (cc) flickr user sterlic

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a...well, actually, it’s just a plane–specifically, a Boeing 737–that touched down in Beijing after a two hour flight from Shanghai on March 21st. But what set this Boeing 737 apart from the rest of the jumbo jet set is the fact that, rather than burning standard airplane fuel, the passenger flight was running on a special biofuel combination of fifty percent ordinary gas and fifty percent recycled cooking oil–a first for the Chinese airline industry.

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Is Waste an Untapped Resource?

Don’t trash talk the potential of trash until you hear the findings in this latest study.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Waste is intrinsically, well, wasteful. But it doesn’t need to be. Assessment of Advanced Biofuels from Wastes & Residues, a new study by indie nonprofit the International Council of Clean Transportation, reports that waste is an untapped resource with various benefits. Most notably, it highlights that waste and other residues from industries, farms, and households can be converted into advanced biofuels, which can power our cars.

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What if Making Biofuel Means Growing Dangerous Invasive Species?

The same qualities that make a good biofuel crop are also hallmarks of species that crowd out native plant life.


The same characteristics that make a good biofuel stock also make successful weeds. The next generation of biofuels won’t come from corn, but from cellulose-rich plants—grasses, algae, and reeds—and those most suited for biofuel production might be those that are “fast-growing, highly productive, highly competitive, self-propagating or able to regrow rapidly,” a report from the National Wildlife Federation suggests.

“Unfortunately, many invasive species, by their very nature, exhibit these qualities as well,” researchers Aviva Glaser and Patty Glick write in the report.

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Attack of the Killer Algae? The Risks of Creating Biofuels

When the organisms we're engineering to make biofuels escape into the wild, could they irrevocably alter healthy ecosystems?


“One of the problems with algae is that they tend not to stay where they are,” says Todd Kuiken, a senior research associate with the Wilson Center’s Synthetic Biology Project. “If anyone tells you that algae won’t escape, they're lying or they don't understand how algae works.”

It doesn’t matter if the algae are grown in contained systems or in open-air ponds, although the latter system offers more opportunities for a breakout. The algae that scientists have altered to help produce biofuels will escape into nature, whether on a quick breeze, a shirtsleeve, or a bird’s foot. They will bring with them genetic material that humans have tinkered with and, in some cases, manufactured wholesale. The results are often nothing, but in a worst case scenario, the engineered algae thrive or transfer their human-made genes to other algae, and a piece of DNA made in a lab leads to irrevocable changes in a once-diverse and thriving ecosystem.

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