A new revolutionary pretreatment process has emerged that could drastically reduce the cost of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from waste wood biomass, making it a more affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional jet fuel. This process has the potential to cut emissions by up to 80% and make SAF cost-competitive with fossil-based jet fuel.
While it’s important to note that SAF is not a perfect green solution to aviation, it does offer several advantages. SAF is a higher-purity fuel that produces up to 3% more energy, burns cleaner, and significantly reduces sulfur and particulate emissions. It also eliminates the emissions cost of the oil extraction and refining processes. Additionally, depending on the feedstock used, it can even be net carbon negative without requiring any modifications to jet engines.
The key to this new pretreatment process lies in the ability to extract fuel from the lignin in biomass as well as the sugars. Unlike traditional biofuels, this process utilizes feedstocks like wood residues from milling operations, sugarcane bagasse, and corn stover, which are all cheap and abundant waste products. However, lignin has historically posed a challenge due to its tough and resilient nature, especially when dealing with harder woods. Many operations choose to burn the lignin for process heat and power due to its economic sense, but this approach is environmentally unsustainable.
Fortunately, researchers at UC Riverside have developed a pretreatment that addresses this issue. By adding tetrahydrofuran (THF) to water and dilute acid during biomass pretreatment, the team has significantly improved overall efficiency and increased fuel production from lignin and sugars. This has resulted in a remarkable increase in the amount of fuel obtained from feedstocks like corn stover and poplar wood, making it a highly efficient and cost-effective solution.
The cost of this new pretreatment process is estimated to be as low as $3.15 per gallon, making it a promising candidate for making SAF more affordable and accessible. However, production cost doesn’t factor in other costs such as transport, logistics, business expenses, and profit. Therefore, further research and analysis are needed to fully understand the impact on the final price of SAF.
Overall, this breakthrough innovation in sustainable aviation fuel production has the potential to drastically reduce the price of SAF and make it a more viable option for sustainable transport. The team’s research paper is open access at the journal Energy & Environmental Science, and it represents a significant step forward in creating cost-effective, environmentally friendly fuels from biomass and lignin to help reduce carbon emissions and promote a more sustainable future for aviation.