Every day, 45,000 flights fly across America, carrying around 1.7 million passengers. Aviation accounts for most of a frequent traveler’s individual contribution to climate change while also being one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize.
The United States is the world’s largest contributor to aviation carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for more than a quarter of all carbon dioxide released by flying.
But what if we could substitute carbon-intensive jet fossil fuels with biojet fuels made from American-grown rain-fed grass?
A recent study supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Nature Sustainability shows a path for fully decarbonizing US aviation fuel use by replacing conventional jet fuel with sustainably produced biofuels.
The study, led by Arizona State University researchers, discovered that planting the grass miscanthus on 23.2 million hectares of existing marginal agricultural lands across the United States would provide enough biomass feedstock to meet the liquid fuel demands of the U.S. aviation sector entirely from biofuels, an amount expected to reach 30 billion gallons per year by 2040.
“When you plant crops over strategically designed areas, the planting of these crops has an impact on the climate,” said Matei Georgescu, co-corresponding author of the study.
“If there is a change in the underlying landscape, for example, an increase or decrease in the amount of vegetation, there may be implications for local to regional scale climate, including more or less precipitation, or warmer or cooler temperatures.”
To account for these interactions between the land and the atmosphere, the researchers used the data from hydroclimate models to guide their ecosystem model. The researchers then determined if farming these grasses would be economical.