Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready for Takeoff

Can oil extracted from a tiny seed grown in the Southeast U.S. be the key to what powers jet planes in the future? A team of researchers have been getting a 30,000-foot view of Brassica carinata, but are now coming in for a closer look.

Field of carinata
Carinata has a production cost similar to that of canola. Photo by David Wright, UF/IFAS

Potential behind the biofuel crop has sparked USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to award UF/IFAS researchers a $15 million grant to study the inedible seed whose oil can not only be turned into jet fuel, but also used to feed livestock.

David Wright, project lead and a Professor in the UF/IFAS Agronomy Department, heads the Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata (SPARC). The SPARC team is comprised of scientists from several Southeast U.S. universities, government agencies, industry (Agrisoma Biosciences Inc., and Applied Research Associates Inc.), and a consortium representing the commercial aviation industry.

“Our goal is to commercialize carinata to produce jet fuel and feed for livestock, while mitigating risks along the entire supply chain,” Wright stated. “We want to create a product that is environmentally beneficial, cost-effective and easily produced.”

For several years, Wright has led a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in studies to maximize production of carinata. These studies have initiated large-scale production of the crop in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

According to Ian Small, an Assistant Professor in the UF/IFAS Plant Pathology Department and SPARC Deputy Project Director, an advantage of the fuel produced from carinata is that it does not have to be blended with petroleum-based fuel.

Research conducted by UF/IFAS scientists in partnership with Agrisoma Inc. has identified the Southeast U.S. as a viable production area for carinata. Wright points out that the plant is a good fit into existing agricultural infrastructure. “Our research shows that carinata grows well in the winter when fields are often fallow after cotton, corn, soybean, or peanut, and is economically competitive.”

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