Jet fuel derived from a type of mustard plant can replace the petroleum-based aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions by up to 68 percent, according to a study led by an Indian-origin scientist in the US.
The research, published in the journal GCB Bioenergy, estimated the break-even price and life cycle carbon emissions of the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) derived from oil obtained from Brassica carinata, a non-edible oilseed crop.
"If we can secure feedstock supply and provide suitable economic incentives along the supply chain, we could potentially produce carinata-based SAF in the southern US," said Puneet Dwivedi, associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia, US.
The researchers noted that the aviation industry emits 2.5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions from the US and is responsible for 3.5 percent of global warming. "Carinata-based SAF could help reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector while creating economic opportunities and improving the flow of ecosystem services across the southern region," said Dwivedi.
The price for producing SAF from carinata ranged from USD 0.12 per litre on the low end to USD 1.28 per litre, based on existing economic and market incentives, the researchers said. The price for petroleum-based aviation fuel was USD 0.50 per litre -- higher than carinata-based SAF when current economic incentives were included in the analysis, they said.
Dwivedi is part of the Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata, or SPARC, a USD 15 million project funded by the US Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Through SPARC, researchers have spent the past four years investigating how to grow carinata in the Southeast, exploring questions related to optimum genetics and best practices for the highest crop and oil yield.
With those answers in place, Dwivedi is confident about carinata's role in supporting the regional economy and environment. “In the South, we can grow carinata as a winter crop because our winters are not as severe compared to other regions of the country," he said.
"Since carinata is grown in the 'off' season it does not compete with other food crops, and it does not trigger food versus fuel issues. Additionally, growing carinata provides all the cover-crop benefits related to water quality, soil health, biodiversity and pollination," Dwivedi said.
The missing piece of the puzzle, according to Dwivedi, is the lack of local infrastructure for crushing the seed and processing the oil into SAF.
His current research focuses on modelling the economic and environmental feasibility of producing and consuming carinata-based SAF across Georgia, Alabama and Florida by taking a supply-chain perspective.