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Indian students have designed a plant that recycles aircraft waste while being air-borne

2nd Jun 2016
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What happens to the waste generated in the air in an aircraft? Two alumni of the Indian Institue of Science (IISC), Bengaluru, Mohit Gupta and Darshan Seshagiri, along with Aarohi Bhavinbhai Shah, (all currently studying at Georgia Tech, USA) have designed a plant to manage waste inside an aircraft while air-borne thereby reducing the aviation industry’s ecological footprint. Their plant beat 300 other projects from US universities to win the Innovation 2016 award.

Image: KLM Blog
Image: KLM Blog

“Waste generated on board goes straight to landfills. Airlines pay about $241 per tonne to dispose of the waste along with a tipping fee of $16 per tonne. A tonne of waste is equal to the waste generated by 3 long haul flight segments,” said Prof Dineshkumar Harursampanth, one of the mentors for the team, quoting a New York Times article published in 2010.

A report in The Times Of India states, according to the team members, waste is collected in a gasification plant installed in the aircraft. Gasification is a process that breaks down solid waste into small chunks and decomposes it, which eases waste transportation and disposal. The process produces combustible gas, which is burnt in a chamber of the gasification plant. It has an outlet, with a filter and the air is expelled into the atmosphere.

According to the inventors, “The pressure at that height would be so low that these gases would be automatically sucked out from the outlet valve.” The entire process can be compared to the human digestive system, they say. “The intestines absorb the energy from food before throwing out waste in solid and gaseous form. The process developed by the team similarly employs a gasification system on board. The organic waste is taken and energy harnessed from it. In addition to the economical savings, it adds value to the aircraft by reducing the aviation ecological footprint and bringing it closer to nature,” said the team members.

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