Sustainability

Climate Warriors: The RAF's quest to go green

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, wants to see the service achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2040.

The Royal Air Force accounts for two-thirds of the Ministry of Defence's fuel consumption - just under 400,000 litres a year.

In less than 20 years, the current Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, wants to see the RAF achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

He also wants an emissions-free aircraft flying in RAF colours by the end of this decade.

"It sounds a long way away, but we have got to start making the plans now, or we'll run out of time," he told Forces News.

RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire is something of a beacon when it comes to going green.

At the station, Corporal Hayley Woodhall and a colleague have invented a ground-breaking system to recycle old aircraft oil.

The system, called 'Picasso', uses bacteria to devour the waste, and turn it into water and carbon dioxide, which is then converted into oxygen by plants.

The station has also been trialling an autonomous delivery vehicle called 'Kar-Go', which is designed to learn routes as it travels around the base and would provide an alternative to the current fleet of diesel vans.

Watch: RAF test pilot's world record flight in 2021 using 100% synthetic fuel.

RAF Brize Norton has also won awards for a scheme to cut back on single-use plastic.

By 2040, they are planning to be using sustainable fuels at the station, have their own solar farm, and be sequestering carbon from the atmosphere using moss, which is 80% more efficient than planting trees.

"Goodness knows how things will have moved on by then, but by then sustainability will be part of our DNA," said Group Captain Emily Flynn, RAF Brize Norton's station commander.

Last year, an RAF test pilot flew the world’s first aircraft powered with 100% sustainable fuel.

The Royal Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office worked on the project with Zero Petroleum, a private company founded by veteran Formula One designer Paddy Lowe.

So can the RAF go green and still maintain its capability?

"I don't see them as being mutually exclusive," says Air Marshal Andrew Turner, former deputy commander for capability in the RAF.

"We are aiming at net zero, that's to say no offsets, no purchases, no carbon credits.

"I think we can win, and generate a net-zero service."