CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In an effort to combat soaring fuel prices and cut greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry is racing toward the use of biofuels. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic became the first commercial airline to fly a plane on a blend of biofuel and petroleum. Since then, Air New Zealand, Qatar Airways and Continental Airlines, among others, have flown biofuel test flights, and Lufthansa is racing to be the first carrier to run daily flights on a biofuel blend.
However, researchers at MIT say the industry may want to make sure it has examined biofuels' complete carbon footprint before making an all-out push. They say that when a biofuel's origins are factored in for example, taking into account whether the fuel is made from palm oil grown in a clear-cut rainforest conventional fossil fuels may sometimes be the "greener" choice.
"What we found was that technologies that look very promising could also result in high emissions, if done improperly," says James Hileman, principal research engineer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who has published the results of a study conducted with MIT graduate students Russell Stratton and Hsin Min Wong in the online version of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. "You can't simply say a biofuel is good or bad it depends on how it's produced and processed, and that's part of the debate that hasn't been brought forward."
Hileman and his team performed a life-cycle analysis of 14 fuel sources, including conventional petroleum-based jet fuel and "drop-in" biofuels: alternatives that can directly replace conventional fuels with little or no change to existing infrastructure or vehicles. In a previous report for the Federal Aviation Administration's Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction, they calculated the emissions throughout the life cycle of a biofuel, "from well to wake" from acquiring the biomass to transporting it to conver
|Contact: Caroline McCall|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology