These days, every industry is focused on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Airlines are particularly concerned over the issue: their carbon footprint is currently quite small, but projected long-term growth in passenger traffic raises concerns about the future. The industry has long been vulnerable to oil price fluctuations and has borne a particularly heavy burden in reducing its environmental impact. Does the burgeoning biofuels industry have anything to offer?
Biofuels produced from a variety of feedstocks have already been used to power jet engines. While the concept has been proven, no viable alternative technology has yet been developed that can match the cost-effectiveness of traditional oil-derived jet fuel.
Promising research that might improve the situation is currently underway. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working to genetically engineer sugarcane – already widely cultivated in warm climatic areas and long used to produce biofuel in Brazil – into a variety with a dramatically increased oil content.
These scientists face a considerable challenge: sugarcane naturally contains only 0.05% oil, far too little to for economically viable biofuel production. Working against the expectations and advice of other specialists, they have already produced a sugarcane variety that is 12% oil, and they believe their target of 20% is within reach. They are also working to make a sugarcane variety that can be grown in cooler climates, including the southern US states. If they are successful, they believe their “lipidcane” could be vastly more productive than other biofuel plant sources.
For more information, please read:
Jet Fuel Made From Sugar Cane? It’s Not a Flight of Fancy | Popular Mechanics