Jet Fuel Derived from Sugarcane Shrinks Airplane Emissions
Airplanes release a significant amount of CO2 with each takeoff and touchdown, and the EPA recently announced plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by the airline industry.
But researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have a solution: a sugarcane-derived jet fuel they say reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.
Over the last quarter century, scientists have developed a variety of alternative fuels, sourced from all sorts of natural gases and biomasses. These fuels now power cars, trucks, buses and more. But scientists have yet to offer a viable alternative to the jet fuel that powers planes.
The demands of an airplane engine are many. Planes require fuel that is oxygen-free and stable at very low temperatures. Proper jet fuel must also possess the right boiling point and an ideal degree of lubricity so as not to erode the turbines over time.
A team of scientists led by Alexis Bell claim their new fuel meets all those qualifications — and it’s better for the environment.
“All of the carbon and any hydrogen required for the fuel are derived from biomass, rather than fossil fuels,” Bell told Quartz.
Instead of using enzymes to break down and turn sugarcane biomass into fuel, Bell and his colleagues employ a substitute catalyst — substances that elicit a desired chemical reaction but which don’t actually participate.
After fermentation has broken the sugarcane down into carbon atoms like acetone, butanol and ethanol, the catalysts work to string together longer carbon atom chains called methyl ketones that can be used as the building blocks for effective fuel.
The work of Bell and his research partners, which has been funded by BP, was recently detailed in the journal PNAS.