Biofuel Boosters Point to Corn to Curb CO2 Emissions From Planes

Dec 22, 2023

Corn is good. It aids digestion, eye, and heart health, and it's gluten-free. It also produces a nature-friendly biofuel that the airline sector is rushing to use in place of the standard kind that emits greenhouse gasses.

It's a leading choice from a menu of biofuel alternatives. It's also made from sources ranging from animal fat to manure. As a group, they're referred to as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Corn is a top pick because it's easy to convert into ethanol. This is a much cleaner fuel that’s already found in blends pumped from gas stations. A very small amount of SAF is also used in aviation fuel at present. 

Major airlines are planning to sharply ramp up use of ethanol and other SAF. United Airlines struck a deal with a midwestern ethanol company to buy enough of it to fuel 50,000 flights yearly. Delta Airlines plans to launch an SAF hub in Minnesota. President Biden has favored a massive production jump in SAF from a current 16 million gallons a year to 3 billion gallons by 2030.

But the shift to SAF could see bumps. SAF is pricey. It costs two times more than standard jet fuel. Further, its sources are much less profuse than oil. Ramping up corn production to solve one climate change problem could also run headlong into another. A warming earth is draining groundwater sources. And corn needs massive amounts of water. 

“We’re on track to massively increase water usage without any real sense of how sensitive our aquifers are,” Jeffrey Broberg told The New York Times. He's a geologist.

Some in the ethanol sector have proposed that the shift could be aided by using less corn for food.

Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Waldemar.

Reflect: How might we develop new, cleaner airplane fuels without causing unintended problems for the environment or our food production?

Based on the details in the story, the reader can conclude that _______. (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. corn is the only source used for making Sustainable Aviation Fuel
b. Sustainable Aviation Fuel is less expensive than conventional jet fuel
c. corn production for Sustainable Aviation Fuel might impact the availability of water
d. Sustainable Aviation Fuel has no positive impact on the environment
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