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ASU group proposes sustainable jet fuel from plants

Like long-distance transport and shipping, the aviation industry cannot easily switch to low-carbon energy sources, and large, electrified aircraft are not currently feasible. 

But an eight-year study published in the journal Nature Sustainability has produced a sustainable alternative: plant-based jet fuel.

Combining land assessments with computer models of nature and economics, the team calculated that miscanthus, or silvergrass, could provide enough jet fuel to meet the expected 2040 demand of 30 billion gallons/year.

The grass would grow on 23.2 million hectares (roughly the land area of Wyoming) of marginal farmland, areas that often lay fallow or have poor soils, and would be watered by rainfall.

The fuel would cost around $4.10 per gallon — more than the typical $2.00/gallon, but well within this year’s price swings.

Growing the fuel feedstock would also be more profitable for farmers than using the land for soy, corn or pasture.

Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.