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UTIA Awarded FAA Grant to Research Sustainable Aviation Fuel Development in the Southeast

Growing Biomass for Jet Fuel May Become a Viable Option for Farmers

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture have been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate regional biomass supply chains with regard to their potential for supplying feedstock for domestic fuel production as well as rural economic development, a potential game changer for farming communities.

The agricultural biomass feedstock targeted for analysis, nationally and regionally, include oilseed cover crops — pennycress, soybean, canola, carinata and camelina — and softwood logging residues. A supply chain that appears to be economically viable using a pennycress cover crop has been initially evaluated for west central Tennessee with the objective of supplying 40% of renewable aviation fuel for the Nashville International Airport. The analysis includes evaluation of feedstock availability and supply chain requirements to grow, move, crush feedstock and transport fuel to the airport.

The airport regions to be examined are, tentatively, Nashville and Memphis for the oilseed pathway and Chattanooga, Birmingham and Atlanta for the logging residues pathway.

The use of biomass feedstock may reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80% compared to petroleum-based fuels. In order to achieve the aviation industry’s goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2050, however, the pace of commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels must be accelerated, which requires the development of production systems that increase economic efficiency.

“This one-year grant project will accelerate the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels by generating strategic information and educating stakeholders on production pathways that can increase economic efficiency, enhance sustainability awareness, leverage economics of scope and scale and reduce renewable fuel costs,” said UTIA professor and lead researcher Burton C. English.

The researchers will analyze the economic viability and environmental impacts of using cover crops as a biomass feedstock, as well as feedstock availability and quality. Collaborating on components of the project are Washington State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University.

Finally, the UTIA team will develop a plan for regional implementation of the sustainable aviation fuel supply chain in Tennessee and the Southeast, including projections of job creation, economic activity, labor income, farmer revenue, and state and local taxes generated from growth in the aviation biofuel industry itself and through multiplier effects.

This research is part of the Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT) project—a cooperative aviation research organization co-led by Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ASCENT is funded by the FAA, NASA, DOD, Transport Canada and EPA. The research cooperative includes 16 leading U.S. research universities and more than 60 private-sector stakeholders. Additional resources include a partnership with international research programs, federal agencies and national laboratories.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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Tina Johnson

Agricultural and Resource Economics

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Burton English, Agricultural and Resource Economics