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New PARTNER report compares alternative fuel GHG emissions

PARTNER report compares alt fuel GHG emissions

May 7, 2010 — The Partnership for AiR Transportation Noise and Emission Reduction has published a new report comparing a wide range of aviation alternative fuels’ greenhouse gas emissions throughout their entire lifecycle. The research behind the report, “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Alternative Jet Fuels,” was the first to employ a consistent research methodology to examine a wide range of fuels.

Key findings

• Life cycle GHG emissions are but one of many considerations when evaluating the feasibility and sustainability of alternative fuel options.
• Of the fuel options considered, conventional petroleum has the lowest emissions of any jet fuel pathway that relies exclusively on fossil fuel resources.
• Few biofuels have zero life cycle GHG emissions.
• There is considerable variability in the life cycle GHG emissions; emissions from land use change contribute the most to this variability for the biofuel pathways considered.
• Water availability could be a limiting factor for biofuel production in certain U.S. regions.
• Biofuel expansion within the U.S. would require a significant increase in crop and feedstock production.
• The possibility that non-indigenous species will be introduced into an unprepared ecosystem should not be ignored.
• The most significant challenge in developing viable alternative fuels that could reduce aviation's GHG emissions lies in developing and commercializing large-scale production of next generation biomass feedstocks that could be grown in a sustainable manner.

The study focused its research on “drop-in” alternatives that could directly replace conventional jet fuel with little or no modification to existing infrastructure and aircraft. Fuels studied included petroleum based jet fuel from conventional and unconventional sources (oil sands, and oil shale), Fisher-Tropsch fuel from natural gas, coal and biomass, and hydroprocessed jet fuels from soy oil, palm oil, rapeseed oil, jatropha oil, algae oil, and salicornia oil.

Next step

The researchers’ next step is to expand the project to consider additional fuels, such as those derived from pyrolysis oils and sugar fermentation. They also plan to quantify their fuel options in terms of production cost, water use impact, and production potential.

The FAA’s Office of Energy and Environment sponsored the research, which was was conducted by Russ Stratton, Hsin Min Wong, and Jim Hileman at MIT as part of PARTNER’s Project 28, Environmental Cost-Benefit Analysis of Alternative Jet Fuels. FAA Chief Scientist for the Environment Dr. Lourdes Maurice said, “This report represents a critical step forward in the road to deploying alternative aviation fuels. Through this, and other projects in its portfolio, PARTNER is establishing technical leadership in the field of alternative fuel lifecycle analysis.”

- Bill Litant

Partnership for AiR Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction
An FAA Center of Excellence