A new jet biofuel feedstock developed by researchers at the University of Illinois could produce up to 15 times more jet fuel per hectare than soybeans, according to the scientists. If grown on 23 million acres of now-marginal land in the U.S. Southeast, it could supply 65 percent of U.S. jet-A consumption, they said.
Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, the university’s “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum” project has developed a sugarcane that produces, instead of sugar, an oil called lipidcane that can be directly converted to jet-A. At the plant’s 20 percent theoretical maximum level of oil, all of its sugar would be replaced by oil and would thus produce 15 times more jet fuel compared with soybeans.
Researchers are now engineering the oil-producing sugarcane to be more cold-tolerant than regular sugarcane so it can be grown on marginal land not used for agriculture. They estimate lipidcane-derived jet biofuel would cost $5.31 per gallon. While this is lower than most reported prices for oil crop-derived renewable jet fuel, it is $3.52 per gallon more than the current $1.79 composite jet fuel price for Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York reported by the Argus U.S. Jet Fuel Price Index.