A Boeing 747 could fly for ten hours on biojet fuel produced on 54 acres of specially engineered sugarcane, according to research from the University of Illinois. The same aircraft would burn one gallon of conventional jet fuel each second.
Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS), funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), has developed sugarcane that produces oil, called lipidcane, which can be converted into biodiesel or jet fuel in place of the sugar that is currently used in ethanol production, according to a statement.
The theoretical limit of the plant is 20% oil, which would mean all of the sugar would be replaced by oil.
"Oil-to-Jet is one of the direct and efficient routes to convert bio-based feedstocks to jet fuel," said Vijay Singh, director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory.
"Reducing the feedstock cost is critical to improving process economics of producing bio-jet fuel. Lipidcane allows us to reduce feedstock cost."
The research analysed the economic viability of crops with different levels of oil. It found that Lipidcane with 5% oil produces four times more jet fuel (1,577 litres, or 416 gallons) per hectare than soybeans, while sugarcane with 20% oil produces more than 15 times more jet fuel (6,307 litres, 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 US," said PETROSS Director Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the Carl R. Woes Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. "If all of this acreage was used to produce renewable jet fuel from lipidcane, 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," said Deepak Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois, who led the analysis.
A study detailing the research has been published in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy.