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Using Plant-Based Aviation Fuel Could Cut Carbon Emissions by 68%

According to a new study by scientist Puneet Dwivedi from the University of Georgia, swapping petroleum-based aviation fuel with sustainable aviation fuel originating from a type of mustard plant can decrease carbon emissions by nearly 68%.

Using Plant-Based Aviation Fuel Could Cut Carbon Emissions by 68%.
Puneet Dwivedi. Image Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA

Dwivedi headed a team that projected the break-even price and lifecycle carbon emissions of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that originated 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 United States.

Puneet Dwivedi, Scientist and Associate Professor, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

The aviation sector produces 2.5% of all carbon dioxide emissions nationally and is accountable for 3.5% 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.

Puneet Dwivedi, Scientist and Associate Professor, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

Biden’s Sustainable Fuel Tax Credit

Dwivedi’s findings come at a favorable time. In September, President Joe Biden recommended a sustainable fuel tax credit as part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which brings federal organizations together to increase the production of SAF countrywide. Biden fixed the goal of a 20% decrease in aviation emissions by 2030 and realizing a 100% zero-carbon aviation industry by 2050.

The recommended tax credit necessitates a 50% reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions — a standard that carinata surpasses, according to the team’s discoveries.

The price for creating SAF from carinata fluctuated from $0.12 per liter on the low end to $1.28 per liter, based on the current market and economic incentives. The price for petroleum-based aviation fuel was $0.50 per liter — higher than carinata-based SAF when existing economic incentives were incorporated into the assessment.

Current policy mechanisms should be continued to support manufacturing and distribution of SAF. The Grand Challenge announced by President Biden could be a game-changer in supporting carinata-based SAF production in the southern region.

Puneet Dwivedi, scientist and Associate Professor, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

Growing Carinata in the ​​​​​​​Southeast

Dwivedi is part of the Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata (SPARC), a $15 million project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Through SPARC, scientists have dedicated the last four years to discovering how to grow carinata in the Southeast, exploring questions associated with optimum genetics and best practices for maximum crop and oil yield. Armed with those answers, Dwivedi is self-assured about carinata’s role in supporting the environment as well as the regional economy.

“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.”

The missing part of the conundrum, according to Dwivedi, is the absence of local infrastructure for seed crushing and processing the oil into SAF. His present research concentrates on modeling the environmental and economic feasibility of creating and consuming carinata-based SAF across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida by taking a supply-chain angle.

Our results would be especially relevant to the state of Georgia, which is the sixth-largest consumer of conventional aviation fuel in the country, hosts the busiest airport in the world, and is home to Delta, a leading global airline company.

Puneet Dwivedi, Scientist and Associate Professor, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

“I am looking forward to pursuing more research for providing a sustainable alternative to our current model of air travel. Carinata has the potential to be a win-win situation for our rural areas, the aviation industry, and most importantly, climate change,” he added.

The study’s co-authors include Asiful Alam and Md Farhad Hossain Masum, both at the University of Georgia. SPARC also includes Dan Geller and Brian Bledsoe, College of Engineering, and Greg Colson and Henry Sintim, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

This research received funding through the USDA-NIFA Bioenergy Coordinated Agricultural Project Grant # 2016-11231.

This study titled “Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production from Brassica carinata in the Southern United States” is a part of a special issue published in GCB Bioenergy.

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