Scientists at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a DOE Bioenergy Research Center, have published a study modeling which crop-based feedstocks offer the greatest potential for producing a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) while also maximizing atmospheric carbon removal.
In order to meet the ambitious national goal of cutting the aviation sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in half by 2050, a “drop-in” replacement is required that can power the engines of existing planes. Biomass crops need to not only produce large quantities of clean-burning, high-performance fuel, but also prove economically feasible for producers, biorefineries, and consumers. In addition, selected feedstocks should maximize carbon accumulation in soils and the efficiency of land use, while minimizing the negative environmental impacts of fertilizer application and water consumption.
There are several candidates to consider as the starting plants for SAF production. The JBEI analysis examines the potential of three high-yielding biomass crops – Miscanthus, sorghum, and switchgrass – to provide feedstocks for commercial-scale production of SAF. Simulation and modeling explored the interplay and tradeoffs between bioenergy, production volume, carbon removal, and fuel prices. Scientists selected the feedstocks for the study because all three can be grown without irrigation on farms across the United States, and can be readily converted into high-performance dimethylcyclooctane jet fuel.
“Although previous studies have assessed biomass production and impacts at various locations, they have not analyzed the full spectrum of technical, economic, and environmental factors at a national level – until now,” said Corinne Scown, the study’s senior author, vice president of JBEI’s Life-cycle and Economics Division and a staff scientist in the Biological Systems and Engineering Division.