May 18, 2024

Biofuel Research: Full Decarbonization of U.S. Aviation Sector Is Within Grasp

The study found that planting the lawn miscanthus on 23.2 million hectares of existing limited farming lands– land that typically lays fallow or is poor in soil quality– throughout the United States would offer sufficient biomass feedstock to fulfill the liquid fuel demands of the U.S. air travel sector totally from biofuels, a quantity anticipated to reach 30 billion gallons/year by 2040.
Research study shows a path to sustainably produce biojet fuel locally and fulfill the nations growing air travel fuel need.
Every day in the United States, 45,000 planes fly throughout the nation bring some 1.7 million passengers. A frequent tourists private contribution to climate change is dominated by air travel, and yet is among the most challenging sectors to decarbonize.
The United States is the largest factor to aviation co2 emissions worldwide. In truth, it is accountable for more than a quarter of all carbon dioxide discharged from flying.

What if we could make all U.S. air travel nearly emissions complimentary?
What if we could change carbon-intensive jet fossil fuels with a cleaner alternative: biojet fuels originated from rain-fed turf grown in the U.S.?
New research that will be published today (November 14) in the journal Nature Sustainability shows a path toward full decarbonization of U.S. aviation fuel use by replacing traditional jet fuel with sustainably produced biofuels.
The study, led by a team of Arizona State University scientists, discovered that planting the yard miscanthus on 23.2 million hectares of existing limited farming lands– land that typically lays fallow or is bad in soil quality– across the United States would offer sufficient biomass feedstock to fulfill the liquid fuel demands of the U.S. aviation sector completely from biofuels, a quantity anticipated to reach 30 billion gallons/year by 2040.
” We demonstrate that it is within reach for the United States to decarbonize the fuel used by commercial aviation, without needing to wait on electrification of airplane propulsion,” said Nazli Uludere Aragon, co-corresponding author on the research study and a recent ASU Geography PhD graduate.
” If we are major about getting to net no greenhouse gas emissions, we require to handle emissions from flight which are anticipated to grow under a business-as-usual scenario. Finding alternative, more sustainable liquid fuel sources for aviation is key to this.”
Integrating ecosystem, atmospheric science, and economic competence
In the research study, the researchers utilized an incorporated structure of land evaluations, hydro-climate modeling, community modeling, and economic modeling to assess where and under what conditions across the United States, energy crops used for biojet fuels might be grown sustainably utilizing requirements that evaluates both environmental and financial performance.
The criteria was comprehensive. The team first recognized and examined where optimal minimal agriculture lands already existed in the U.S. They then assessed whether one might grow the best energy crops on the land without utilizing additional water.
The group then evaluated whether growing energy crop feedstocks on these lands would have destructive impacts on the surrounding climate or soil wetness and predicted the potential efficiency of yields of two various lawns– miscanthus and switchgrass– as appropriate biomass energy feedstocks. The group quantified the amount and the cost of biojet fuel that would be produced and distributed nationwide at scale.
” The present method we produce sustainable jet fuel is very land inefficient and not on a big scale,” said Nathan Parker, an author on the study and an assistant teacher in the School of Sustainability. “There are extremely limited manner ins which aviation could end up being low carbon producing with a similarly low climate effect and this is one method weve shown that is practical and can get the aviation market to be carbon neutral through farming.”
The scientists emphasized that this integrated systems point of view was vital to the research study. In the past, research study around the potential of biofuels has mostly consisted of isolated assessments that have not been well-integrated, for example, neglecting essential data on how the modifying crop cover affects the surrounding environment.
” When you plant crops over tactically developed areas, the planting of these crops has an effect on the climate,” said Matei Georgescu, co-corresponding author of the study and associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Director of the Urban Climate Research Center at ASU. “If there is a modification in the underlying landscape, for instance, a boost or decrease in the quantity of vegetation, there may be implications for regional to regional scale environment, including more or less precipitation, or warmer or cooler temperatures.”
To account for these land-atmosphere interactions, the research study group took outputs from their hydroclimate design to notify their community model. The group then examined the financial feasibility for farmers to grow these yards.
Real-world options
For any uptake of an alternative energy pathway solutions require to make economic sense.
The scientists in their analysis, benchmarked the monetary returns of the existing usages for the lands they determined– some already are used for growing corn, soy, or numerous other crops, and others are being used as pasture– versus those from cultivating either miscanthus or switchgrass as biomass feedstock.
Growing miscanthus or switchgrass needed to be more profitable to replace the existing usage of the land in each location.
” These lands we determined are owned and run by real individuals for different farming uses,” said Uludere Aragon, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The economical biofuel capacity from biomass feedstocks is influenced mostly by the opportunity expense of alternative land uses.”
In the end, researchers discovered miscanthus to be the more appealing feedstock, and biojet fuels obtained from miscanthus can satisfy the 30 billion gallons/year target at a typical expense of $4.10/ gallon.
While this is higher than the typical price for traditional jet fuel– normally about $2/gallon– the group concluded it is reasonable when considering biojets prospective to cut emissions. Significantly, in 2022 jet fuel prices have varied from $2 to $5/gallon (not to be confused with retail fuel) due to changes in supply and demand, revealing costs above $4/gallon are well within the variety of possibility.
A design template for the future
The scientists say that in finding more solutions to the Earths climate crisis it is necessary that the scientific neighborhood bridges disciplines and moves past incremental reductions in emissions. Rather, the scientists stress the value of sensible solutions that scale.
” This was an interdisciplinary team with expertise from communities sciences, climate modeling and atmospheric sciences and economics,” stated Georgescu, who acknowledged this research study was a culmination of 8 years of modeling work and cooperation. “To genuinely address sustainability concerns, you need the expert skills of a spectrum of domains.”
” As academics, we must remember economics drives peoples decisions on the ground. It is extremely important to discover the circumstances when these choices are likewise lined up with desirable environmental results.”
Reference: “Sustainable land use and viability of biojet fuels” 14 November 2022, Nature Sustainability.DOI: 10.1038/ s41893-022-00990-w.
The research team consisted of Nazli Uludere Aragon, Nathan C. Parker, Meng Wang, and Matei Georgescu (Arizona State University), Andy VanLoocke (Iowa State University) and Justin Bagley (Onpeak Energy). The research was funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Water Sustainability and Climate initiative.