Food safety has long been a problem in China, due in large part to the sale and resale of used cooking oil within the restaurant industry. The black market trade of this so called “gutter oil” now faces competition from an internationally renowned corporation, The Boeing Company.
On March 21 of this year, a Hainan Airlines Boeing 737 successfully completed a flight from Shanghai to Beijing running on a fifty-fifty blend of used cooking oil and standard jet fuel. According to Boeing China’s president Ian Thomas, this flight represents “a significant milestone” for China’s aviation industry.
The ability of airlines to use gutter oil to power flights generates two positive impacts for China. First, the entry of airlines into the gutter oil market will hamper the existing black market trade that occurs in the country. Boeing has partnered with Commercial Aircraft of China to develop biofuel from old cooking oil, and restaurants may now be more inclined to sell this oil to airlines at a premium as opposed to distributing it illegally and putting themselves at risk. Less gutter oil trade between Chinese restaurants will also improve food safety problems from a consumer health perspective.
Additionally, biofuels have the potential to reduce airlines’ carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent. Many airlines have tried developing biofuels from plant matter, but have incurred significant costs in doing so. As of now, cheap gutter oil seems to be a better alternative to this problem. Estimates indicate that gutter oil in China could produce nearly 1.8 billion liters of biofuel every year. Getting the oil off the black market and into the hands of international corporations produces a win-win solution for all parties involved.