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Getting Jet Fuel from Cornstalks

By NAM News Room

The Department of Energy, Southwest Airlines and other companies are working to develop a low-carbon jet fuel out of cornstalks, according to POLITICO Pro (subscription).

What they’re saying: DOE Deputy Secretary David Turk said the project could reshape air travel, save airlines money and cut CO2 emissions.

  • Bob Jordan, Southwest Airlines CEO, said the project involved “game-changing technology” and, if successful, could replace 5% of U.S. jet fuel by 2030.

The process: The process seeks to turn waste left in farm fields after corn harvests into high-powered ethanol by breaking it down with enzymes and putting it through a fermentation process.

Who’s involved: Last year, Southwest announced a goal to cut emissions by 20% by 2030. The DOE also sought an investor to test the commercial feasibility of the cornstalk project.

  • Southwest agreed to finance part of the project, and other companies, including D3MAX, a Nebraska company that develops ethanol fuels, and SAFFiRE Renewables, have joined the project.

The impact: Lab testing suggests that the new technology could eventually reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of jet fuel by about 83%. 

  • Michael Himmel, a DOE biochemist who helped develop the technology, projects that cornstalk-produced fuel will also be cost effective at about $2.73 per gallon.
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