Impact of bioenergy feedstock carbon farming on sustainable aviation fuel viability in the United States.

Gautam S, Baral NR, Mishra U, Scown CD

Published: 11 December 2023 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Keywords: SOC, aviation fuel, biomass, economic feasibility
Pubmed ID: 38079557
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2312667120

Biomass-derived sustainable aviation fuel holds significant potential for decarbonizing the aviation sector. Its long-term viability depends on crop choice, longevity of soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration, and the biomass-to-biojet fuel conversion efficiency. We explored the impact of fuel price and SOC value on viable biojet fuel production scale by integrating an agroecosystem model with a field-to-biojet fuel production process model for 1,4-dimethylcyclooctane (DMCO), a representative high-performance biojet fuel molecule, from Miscanthus, sorghum, and switchgrass. Assigning monetary value to SOC sequestration results in substantially different outcomes than an increased fuel selling price. If SOC accumulation is valued at $185/ton CO2, planting Miscanthus for conversion to DMCO would be economically cost-competitive across 66% of croplands across the continental United States (US) by 2050 if conventional jet fuel remains at $0.74/L (in 2020 US dollars). Cutting the SOC sequestration value in half reduces the viable area to 54% of cropland, and eliminating any payment for SOC shrinks the viable area to 16%. If future biojet fuel prices increase to $1.24/L-Jet A-equivalent, 48 to 58% of the total cultivated land in the United States could support a more diverse set of feedstocks including Miscanthus, sorghum, or switchgrass. Among these options, only 8-14% of the area would be suitable exclusively for Miscanthus cultivation. These findings highlight the intersection of natural solutions for carbon removal and the use of deep-rooted feedstocks for biofuels and biomanufacturing. The results underscore the need to establish clear and consistent values for SOC sequestration to enable the future bioeconomy.