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  • Ron Kotrba

Renewable diesel byproduct to fuel low-carbon rocket launch

Rocket launch powered by renewable diesel byproduct
Photo: Orbex

The carbon footprint of launching the new Orbex Prime space rocket will be up to 96 percent lower than comparable space launch programs, according to Orbex’s citation of a recent assessment by Xiaoyu Yan from the University of Exeter, titled, “Orbex Holistic Launch Carbon Impact Assessment.”

Naphtha, which goes by many names including BioLPG, is a byproduct of renewable diesel production. The Orbex Prime space rocket is using this fuel as rocket propellant.

“A key factor in the environmental credentials of Prime is its innovative choice of fuel,” Orbex stated in an Oct. 21 press release. “The BioLPG used by Orbex for Prime is sourced from Calor, the U.K.’s leading BioLPG supplier, that produces the propane as a byproduct from the waste and residual material from renewable diesel production.”

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, said, “Orbex will be the first commercial orbital space launch company to use a renewable, carbon-friendly fuel. We believe it is time for ultra-green launch systems to come to the fore. We have to move away from the use of heavily polluting fossil fuels now that more efficient, sustainable alternatives are readily available, and we hope to see much tighter regulations coming into force. As the world prepares to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, we have already moved decisively to a fully sustainable solution that avoids the massive carbon emissions profiles of old-fashioned fossil fueled launch solutions.”

According to Orbex, the black-carbon emissions created by 120 space launches is equivalent to that of the entire global aviation industry annually.

Prime is also designed to be reusable and will not leave any debris on Earth, including the oceans or atmosphere. In addition, Orbex is committing to offset all emissions from the rocket and its launch operations to ensure carbon neutrality. The company plans to launch Prime from Space Hub Sutherland, a carbon-neutral spaceport in the North of Scotland.

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