Jatropha-curcas, a non-edible weed with oil-rich seeds, is gaining reputation as a source of environmentally and economically sustainable aircraft fuel, according to a study released by Boeing.
The oil-producing seeds of the Jatropha holds great promise as biofuel source because the plant is poisonous and nonedible. It grows best on non-agricultural land, so it avoids the food versus fuel debate. Growing edible fuel is known to introduce complex problems for farmers and the agricultural market, but jatropha is free of these issues.
The researchers discovered that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 60 percent with the jatropha oil fuel versus petroleum-based fuel.
Jatropha seeds are made of 27-40 percent oil. The plant itself is a semi-evergreen small tree or shrub that can survive in arid conditions.
The study assessed farming conditions in Latin America and used sustainability criteria from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. Interviews with farmers as well as field instruments made it a truly comprehensive analysis.
Researchers specifically determined that greenhouse gas benefits depended greatly on prior land use. If native trees and grasses are cut down to make way for growing the crop, then those environmental benefits would not be seen.
If the crop is grown on land that was already degraded or cleared, it would exceed the 60 percent baseline due to increased carbon storage.
Researchers also noted that early farming attempts were marked by poor yields, but that seed strain development would solve that problem.
Boeing has strong motivation behind funding the study and publishing successful results. Climate change is fueling discussions about the need to reduce air travel and the impacts of jet fuel on the atmosphere. Boeing, as a major aircraft producer, would prefer to ease this tension.
“The invaluable insights provided by this study will help our airline customers to better understand the sustainability of this potential jet fuel source, while also providing solid scientific data to governments and environmental organizations throughout the region,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes Director of Environmental Strategy Michael Hurd, as quoted by Commodity Online.
The biofuel has so far been tested on numerous airlines including Japan, Continental, Brazil’s TAM, Air New Zealand, and Interjet, all with success. Thousands of jobs have opened up as a result of the new agricultural sector.
Meanwhile in the world of innovative Boeing projects, the company is developing a super quiet, super light Supersonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research “SUGAR” project, according to Aerospace Defense Media Group. Costing $8.8 million, it is part of a NASA program aiming to develop aircraft with reduced emissions, fuel consumption, and noise. The models were meant to be tested in wind tunnels and computer simulations.
Boeing is continuing its work on SUGAR and is developing even more super lightweight planes with advanced engines that would be up in the air in thirty years.