April 30, 2012 at 8:50 PM ET
A globe-trotting, eco-minded adventurer aims to fly the length of England in a tiny plane powered by plastic rubbish – if he can raise the funds needed to get the flight off the ground.
The adventure is the latest in a series of alternative-fuel journeys dreamed up by Andy Pag, a trained engineer who’s already driven a chocolate-powered truck across the Sahara Desert and a bus fueled with used cooking-oil around the world.
For the microlight flight over England, Pag plans to use aviation fuel derived from waste plastics – the stuff that’s unacceptable to recyclers and thus destined for the landfill.
Plastics, he explained, are chemically similar to hydrocarbon fuels – both are made with long chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms, only their arrangements are different.
The aviation fuel is created in a process that “blows the chains apart and then reforms them in the size and shape of fuel molecules,” Pag said in an email to msnbc.com Monday.
This is a Fischer Tropsch process, the same process used by the Germans in World War II to create diesel fuel from coal. "Using coal isn’t particularly environmentally friendly though, but obviously a waste product is," Pag added.
The use of plastics as a source of fuel is technically considered a synthesized fuel rather than a biofuel such as the chocolate and used cooking oil Pag used in his previous adventures.
Similar to biofuels, though, the use of waste plastic is a way to cut down carbon dioxide emissions, he noted. If the plastic bags were left in the landfill, they would, eventually, decompose to methane and carbon dioxide.
"By turning them into fuel, the CO2 still ends up in the atmosphere, but a load of ‘purpose made‘ fuel is saved from being used, reducing total emissions," he said. "More simply, it puts a waste product to good use, reducing consumption and the associated emissions."
Of course, in world teeming with 7 billion people and at least 1 billion vehicles on the road, fuel from used plastic bags, chocolate or even cooking oil is unlikely to curb our reliance on traditional fossil fuels.
"There is no cure-all solution," Pag said. "But if something helps, then I’m keen to take advantage of it."
And for now he wants to take advantage of all that plastic rubbish destined for the world’s landfills. To do so, he’s aiming to raise about $16,250 on Crowdfunder.
To date, he has secured only about 1 percent of his target. Pag hopes a sponsor will back his cause and help cover the rest of the trip's tab, which will include educational stops and will take about two weeks to complete.
-- Via Fast Company
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.