The seeds of a lowly weed could cut jet fuel's cradle-to-grave carbon emissions by 84 percent. David Shonnard, Robbins Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering, analyzed the carbon dioxide emissions of jet fuel made from camelina oil over the course of its life cycle, from planting to tailpipe.
"Camelina jet fuel exhibits one of the largest greenhouse gas emission reductions of any agricultural feedstock-derived biofuel I've ever seen," he said. "This is the result of the unique attributes of the crop--its low fertilizer requirements, high oil yield, and the availability of its coproducts, such as meal and biomass, for other uses."
Camelina sativa originated in Europe and is a member of the mustard family, along with broccoli, cabbage and canola. Sometimes called false flax or gold-of-pleasure, it thrives in the semi-arid conditions of the Northern Plains; the camelina used in the study was grown in Montana.
Oil from camelina can be converted to a hydrocarbon green jet fuel that meets or exceeds all petroleum jet fuel specifications. The fuel is a "drop-in" replacement that is compatible with the existing fuel infrastructure, from storage and transportation to aircraft fleet technology.
"It is almost an exact replacement for fossil fuel," Shonnard explained. "Jets can't use oxygenated fuels like ethanol; they have to use hydrocarbon replacements."