Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new bio-jet fuel produced from sugarcane. Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), scientists from the University believe that the strain of sugarcane they have been working on could produce up to 15 times more jet fuel per hectare, compared to that yielded by soybeans.
The research, known as the “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum” project (PETROSS) has developed sugarcane that produces oil, called lipidcane, rather than sugar. This oil can then be converted into biodiesel or jet-A fuel. With 20% being the theoretical maximum level of oil, all of its sugar would be replaced by oil and would therefore produce 15 times more jet fuel than is currently produced from soybeans.
The University researchers are now working on trying to make the sugarcane more tolerant to the cold, so that it could be grown on land in the Southeast US that is currently not used for agriculture. If grown on these 23 million acres, researchers believe it could supply around 65% of US jet-A consumption. While this is good news, the downside is that the estimated price of this lipidcane-derived jet biofuel would be around $5.31 per gallon, lower than the price for renewable jet fuels produced from other oil crops but still over $3 per gallon more than current jet fuel prices.