There is a significant potential for sustainable aviation fuel based on jatropha-curcas, an oil-producing non-edible plant, says a study released by Boeing.
The study, led by Yale University’s School of Environmental Studies, has shown that if cultivated properly, jatropha can deliver strong environmental and socio-economic benefits in Latin America and reduce greenhouse gas emmissions up to 60 percent as compared to petroleum-based jet fuel.
“Research study like this is vital to helping developers to deliver better social, environmental, and economic sustainability outcomes from jatropha cultivation,” says Rob Bailis, assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
The study, conducted from 2008-2010 and funded by Boeing, used sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels to assess actual farming conditions in Latin America.
Unlike previous studies, which used theoretical inputs, the researchers’ team conducted extensive interviews with jatropha farmers and used field measurements to develop the first comprehensive sustainability analysis of actual projects.
A key study finding identifies prior land-use as the most important factor driving greenhouse gas benefits of a jatropha jet fuel. It highlights that developers should pay particular attention to prior land use when deciding where to locate jatropha projects.
A second important finding is that early jatropha projects suffered from a lack of developed seed strains, which led to poor crop yields.
“The invaluable insights provided by this study will help our airline customers to better understand the sustainability of this potential jet fuel source,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes director of environmental strategy Michael Hurd.
Cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, jatropha-curcas, is a poisonous, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree. It reaches a height of 6 metres (20 ft) and is resistant to a high degree of aridity, allowing it to be grown in deserts.