Alternative Jet Fuel Sustainability

Project Category: 
Alternative Fuels
Project Number: 

Alternative jet fuels offer a number of potential benefits inluding:

  • the potential to mitigate the net environmental impacts of emissions related to aviation
  • energy supply diversification
  • reduction in the economic impact due to oil price volatility
  • U.S. energy security enhancement

As a result, alternative fuels are receiving considerable attention from government, industry and academia.

To evaluate the potential of various alternative jet fuels, a consistent set of metrics should be used, capturing the fuels' impact on, for example, climate change, air quality, water and land usage, and production costs. The broad Project 47 objective was to evaluate and compare potential alternative aviation fuels in terms of overall environmental and economic sustainability. Pathways and fuels included were synthetic liquid fuels manufactured from coal, biomass, or natural gas; hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids from renewable oils including those from algae; and advanced techniques of converting sugars and alcohols to jet fuel. To properly account for the environmental costs and benefits, alternative were evaluated on a ifecycle basis, ranging from obtaining feedstock (referred to as the "well," analagous to a water or oil well) to when the combustion products are exhausted into and react to the environment (referred to as the "wake").

The work expanded upon PARTNER Project 28, which resulted in a report on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of alternative jet fuels and several journal articles on different metrics and pathways; and PARTNER Project 17, which resulted in a PARTNER-RAND alternative fuels report on the economic and policy aspects of adopting alternative jet fuels. The research was being done in collaboration with investigators from Projects 3, 20, 30, and 45.  The main strategic thrust of the research was to extend the sustainability assessment to additional technology sets and feedstock options, to develop scenarios for biofuel deployment, and to conduct tradeoff analyses among different metrics and options. The results of this work are relevant to the NextGen environmental and energy goals relating to the development of alternative jet fuels, and offer important information to regulators, fuel producers and fuel procuring agencies as to the overall sustainability of different feedstock and technology options.


The project significantly enhanced the understanding about the overall environmental and economic sustainability of alternative jet fuels. In particular, it:

  • calculated life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and costs of production analyses for novel feedstock to jet fuel pathways, including emerging technologies such as sugar to jet and algae oil to jet
  • extended lifecycle analysis framework to account for biogeophysical climate effects from land conversion for biofuel production and calculated contribution of these additional effects to total climate impacts of alternative fuel usage
  • quantified the impact of alternative jet fuel usage on black carbon emissions and associated air-quality and climate impacts
  • calculated trade-offs between environmental and economic impacts of alternative fuel usage
  • quantified opportunity costs of alternative jet fuel deployment

Participating university

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lead investigators

Steven Barrett, assistant professor, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Robert Malina, Associate Director, Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Niven Winchester, Environmental Energy Economist, MIT Energy Initiative, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,

Program managers

Carl Ma, FAA
William Harrison, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
James Edwards, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
Daniel Baniszewski, Defense Logistics Agency


Energy return on investment for alternative aviation fuels. P. Trivedi, H. Olcay, M. Staples, M. Withers, R. Malina, S. Barrett, S. (2015):  Applied Energy, Volume 141, 1 March 2015, Pages 167–174

Environmental and economic assessment of producing hydroprocessed jet and diesel fuel from waste oils and tallow. G. Seber, R. Malina, M. Pearlson, H. Olcay, J. Hileman, S. Barrett. 2014. Biomass and Bioenergy, advance article, online May 19, 2014.

Quantifying the climate impacts of albedo changes due to biofuel production: a comparison with biogeochemical effects. F. Caiazzo, R. Malina, M. Staples, P. Wolfe, S. Yim, S. Barrett, Environmental Research Letters Vol.  9 024015

Lifecycle greenhouse gas footprint and minimum selling price of renewable diesel and jet fuel from fermentation and advanced fermentation production technologies, M. Staples, R. Malina, H. Olcay, M. Pearlson, J. Hileman, J., A. Boies, S. Barrett, Energy and Environment Science, 2014, Vol. 7 pp. 1545-1554

Water consumption footprint and land requirements of large-scale alternative diesel and jet fuel production. M. Staples, M., H. Olcay, R. Malina, P/ Trivedi, M. Pearlson, K. Strzepek, S. Paltsev, C. Wollersheim, S. Barrett. 2013. Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 47 (21), pp. 12557–12565

Production of renewable jet fuel range alkanes and commodity chemicals from integrated catalytic processing of biomass. J. Bond, A, Upadhye, H. Olcay, G. Tompsett, J. Jae, R. Xing, D. Alonso, D. Wang, T. Zhang, R. Kumar, A. Foster, A. Sen, C. Maravelias, R. Malina, S. Barrett, R. Lobo, C. Wyman, J. Dumesic, G. Huber. Energy and Environmental  Science, 2014, Vol. 7, pp. 1500-1523

Project 47 was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, Defense Logistics Agency Energy, and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory