Petroleum’s Future Up in the Air

Photo by LiminalMike |

If there’s anything you know about developing technology in transportation it probably has something to do with creating electrically-powered cars to divert from the gas guzzling vehicles we’ve become accustomed to over the past century. 

What we often take for granted is the carbon footprint emitted by aircrafts.  Approximately twice as many kilograms of carbon dioxide are released by a commercial jet per passenger versus that from your average medium-sized car.

Less than a week ago, Honeywell (a leading international supplier and technology licensor for petroleum refining and gas processing) scheduled the world’s first non-stop trans-Atlantic jet flight powered by biofuels.  This keystone journey was driven by a 50-50 combination of aviation biofuel and petroleum in a jet travelling from New Jersey to Paris.

Aside from this groundbreaking emergence of the success of biofuels in jet engines, the concept has been explored in the past.  The Dutch airline, KLM, tested a blend of bio-kerosene and conventional jet fuel in a Boeing 747, successfully transporting passengers in a test run in Europe back in 2009. 

This testing revealed the environmentally advantageous uses of ‘camelina’, an oil plant able to reduce carbon emissions in a jet flight by a substantial 84% versus standard petroleum-based fuels.

Due to higher crop yields worldwide, soybean, sugar cane, and canola food crops are still modernly used as a common biofuel source for heat and power.  However, immense problems arise with the consumption of these crops for biofuels including: greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions through the cultivation of such crops, increased food prices, diminishing valuable agricultural land, and resultantly enhanced rates of deforestation to gain more ground for furthered agricultural purposes.

In order to combat the impact of biofuels on the global supply of cash crops, while investigating them in further detail as a sustainable replacement for petroleum-based fuels, it’ll become increasingly necessary to harvest non-food plant crops that can be translated to biofuels. 

Camelina, jatroph, and algae are in the category of promising biofuels, and will hopefully continue to gain popularity in their role as replacements for non-renewable fuel sources.