The aviation industry is necessary for the world we live in today, but it puts pressure on the environment, through emissions of petroleum-based fossil fuels.
According to a new study, we could reduce these emissions by up to 68% – by switching to a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) derived from plants. Specifically, inedible oilseeds Brassica carinata, a variety of mustard plant. And it could be more cost effective than petroleum fuel.
“If we can secure the supply of raw materials and provide the right economic incentives along the supply chain, we could potentially produce carinata-based SAFs in the southern United States,” says Puneet Dwivedi, sustainable development scientist from the University of Georgia.
“Carinata-based SAF could help reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector while creating economic opportunities and improving the flow of ecosystem services in the southern region. “
About 2.4% of all global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018 were generated by the aviation industry, according to a report by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. A study published earlier this year found that these emissions constitute a 3.5 percent contribution to anthropogenic climate change.
It may not sound like a lot, but it is growing and it is worrying. But the carinata-based FAS seems increasingly viable.
The challenges of transitioning to biofuels include their potential to displace important food crops and questions about whether it is even possible to grow enough energy crops. Where, how and what crop is grown also has a huge impact on reducing emissions.
However, the fuel derived from B. carinata is not a new idea. It was developed and tested a few years ago – the first jet flight with pure biofuel derived from carinata was successfully carried out in 2012, but the cost was much higher than conventional jet fuel.
The new job of Dwivedi and his team was not to prove that the fuel is viable, but to estimate exactly how cost effective it could be and reduce emissions.
Conventional jet fuel currently costs around US $ 0.50 per liter. Without subsidies, the carinata-based FAS is between $ 0.85 and $ 1.28 per liter, the team calculated.
But governments are offering incentives to cut emissions that weren’t in place in 2012, like the Biden administration’s Sustainable Aviation Grand Fuel Challenge, which offers tax credits for a minimum 50% emission reduction per year. compared to conventional jet fuel.
When all available U.S. credits have been factored in, carinata-based FAS costs between $ 0.12 and $ 0.66 per liter, the researchers found.
“Current political mechanisms should be maintained to support the manufacture and distribution of SAF. The Grand Challenge announced by President Biden could be a game-changer by supporting the production of carinata-based SAF in the southern region,” Dwivedi said.
In the southeastern states, where temperatures tend to be warmer, carinata can be grown during the winter months, which are the off-season for food production. This means that it is not in direct competition with other crops. In addition, the by-products of fuel production can still be used to produce animal fodder.
This seems like a no-brainer, with the exception of at least one problem: The United States currently lacks the infrastructure to turn harvest into fuel. The feasibility of building these facilities is at the heart of the team’s current research, in hopes of informing decisions that will be made by farmers, investors and policy makers.
“Our results would be particularly relevant for the state of Georgia, which is the sixth largest consumer of conventional aviation fuel in the country, is home to the world’s busiest airport and is home to Delta, a leading global airline.” , said Dwivedi. noted.
“I look forward to continuing more research to provide a sustainable alternative to our current model of air travel. Carinata has the potential to be a win-win situation for our rural areas, the aviation industry and, most importantly, the climate change. “
The research was published in GCB Bioenergy.