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Biofuel from Promising Feedstock can Enable Aircraft to Fly for Longer

One gallon of jet fuel is burnt by a Boeing 747 every second. A new analysis from Researchers at the University of Illinois estimate that this aircraft could fly for 10 hours on bio-jet fuel created on 54 acres of specially engineered sugarcane.

Deepak Kumar, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Illinois, and Vijay Singh, Director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, led work to show the economic viability of a promising new feedback to produce sustainable bio-jet fuel. (Credit - Claire Benjamin/University of Illinois)

Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS), funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), has grown sugarcane that is capable of producing oil, called lipidcane that can be changed into biodiesel or jet fuel instead of sugar that is at present used for ethanol production. With 20% oil – the hypothetical limit – all of the sugar in the plant would be substituted by oil.

Oil-to-Jet is one of the direct and efficient routes to convert bio-based feedstocks to jet fuel. Reducing the feedstock cost is critical to improving process economics of producing bio-jet fuel. Lipidcane allows us to reduce feedstock cost.

Vijay Singh, Director, The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory

This research tested the economic viability of crops with varying levels of oil. Lipidcane with 5% oil generates four times more jet fuel (1,577 liters, or 416 gallons) per hectare than soybeans. Sugarcane with 20% oil creates over 15 times more jet fuel (6,307 liters, or 1,666 gallons) per hectare than soybeans.

“PETROSS sugarcane is also being engineered to be more cold tolerant, potentially enabling it to be grown on an estimated 23 million acres of marginal land in the Southeastern U.S.,” said PETROSS Director Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. “If all of this acreage was used to produce renewable jet fuel from lipid-cane, it could replace about 65% of national jet fuel consumption.”

We estimate that this biofuel would cost the airline industry $5.31/gallon, which is less than most of the reported prices of renewable jet fuel produced from other oil crops or algae.

Deepak Kumar, Leader of the analysis and Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Illinois

This crop also creates lucrative co-products: A hydrocarbon fuel is created together with biodiesel or bio-jet fuel that can be used to create a variety of bioproducts. The remaining sugar (for plants with less than 20% oil) could be sold or used to create ethanol.  Furthermore, biorefineries could use lipidcane bagasse to create steam and electricity to become self-sustainable for their energy requirements and provide extra electricity, providing environmental advantages by displacing electricity formed with fossil fuels.


  1. Greg Vezina Greg Vezina Canada says:

    Follow the money... Without subsidies and with the REAL life cycle costs included in the price NO BIO FUEL can compete with ammonia made from waste, or even renewable or fossil energy for any fuel use including AIRCRAFT for everything except long distance over seas use.
    Comprehensive Evaluation of NH3 Production and Utilization Options for Clean Energy Applications

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