New biofuel made from sugarcane biomass could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, researchers suggest. And as an added bonus, this sweet source of airplane fuel wouldn’t need to compete with food production as it can be grown on areas unsuitable for agriculture, or marginal land.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a new method to convert sugar and biomass-derived organic molecules called ketones into compounds that could serve as the building blocks of aviation fuel, and perhaps even diesel. Co-author Alexis Bell told BBC News that this “new route of chemistry” has allowed them to put “these components together to make jet diesel and lubricants.”
Though many governments have acknowledged the need for alternative fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry, and to mitigate climate change, they have yet to draw a ‘road map’ to using more renewable energy. Finding viable alternatives to aviation fuel is particularly challenging because, according to Bell in IBTimes UK, neither solar power nor electricity can meet the needs of aviation fuel.
“Today all jet fuel is made almost exclusively from petroleum but the mandates in the US and Europe are that, progressively, more and more of the aviation fuel will have a biomass component, without specifying how it gets there. We are providing a strategy for getting there," Bell added.
There are strict requirements when it comes to aviation fuel as it can’t contain any oxygen, must possess the right lubricity and boiling point distribution, and has to have a low pour point, which means it can’t become gelatinous at extremely low temperatures. Bell told BBC News: "What we have developed meets all of those criteria."
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that their strategy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 81%. Researchers urge policymakers to push for mandates that will tackle the issue of cost, “where any new technology producing a product that already exists is in a cost disadvantaged position,” Bell told IBTimes UK. With time, researchers hope the technology could be developed commercially.