UC Berkeley Scientists Discovered How Using Sugarcane To Power Jets Can Cut 80% Greenhouse Gas Emission

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Last month, my boyfriend and I watched the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, a passionate and inspirational look at former Vice President Al Gore’s fervent crusade to halt global warming’s deadly progress by exposing the myths and misconceptions that surround it. And I cried. It was the first time I looked deep into this topic, and understand it from its roots. It’s a massive environmental crisis that will destroy our future. There will be no future in the next 20-50 years if we don’t take action now.

In previous articles, I’ve mentioned how much the aviation industry has been contributing to global pollution. Every single day, more than 8 million commercial flights have been operating, contributing about 2% in total of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. A huge number! Unfortunately, we can’t stop flying.

6a0105372158ac970b0168e732f639970c-500wiA good news for today is that a team of researchers with the University of California, Berkeley has developed a new technique for converting sugarcane biomass into jet fuel that they claim reduces greenhouse gas emission by 80%. In their publication in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes their process and their hopes that it can eventually be used to power aircraft.

6a0120a805e490970b014e8916b5ba970d“We’ve identified a new route of chemistry with its source from sugars in sugarcane plus some of the so-called waste material called bagasse,” said co-author Alexis Bell.

The new method allows us to selectively upgrade biomass-derived alkyl methyl ketones with 95% yields into trimer condensates, which can then be hydrodeoxygenated in near-quantitative yields to give a new class of cycloalkane compounds. The basic chemistry developed here can be tailored for aviation fuels as well as lubricants by changing the production strategy. A sugarcane biorefinery could use natural synergies between various routes to produce a mixture of lubricant base oils and jet fuels that achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%.

For details about the research, click here.

The team hopes that their findings would ultimately be adopted by commercial fuel producers. “Our sponsors, BP, have encouraged us to apply for a patent, which we have, on this technology. Where they see the likely commercial interest for themselves and others is that the lubricants would be first, as their profit margins are largest, next would be aviation fuel because of the growing US and European regulations requiring a ‘green’ component of aviation fuel,” said Prof Bell.

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