Environmental cost-benefit analysis of alternative jet fuels

Project Category: 
Alternative Fuels
Interdependencies and policy assessment
Project Number: 

Alternative jet fuels hold the promise of energy supply diversification in the face of volatile oil prices. In addition, alternative fuels may reduce the environmental impact from aviation.

To properly account for the environmental costs and benefits of introducing alternative fuels, we must evaluate the environmental impacts from the fuel origin, as it is produced, to its end, as combustion products enter and react in the environment. This is referred to as a life cycle analysis from “well to wake.” The focus of Project 28 was on the creation and use of an aviation-specific life-cycle framework to assess the environmental impacts of alternative jet fuels from well to wake. Because a fuel must be both environmentally and economically sustainable, trade-offs between economic cost of production and greenhouse gas emissions are also being examined.

The Project 28 broad objective was to evaluate the relative environmental impacts of multiple potential alternative aviation fuels that are compatible with existing aircraft and infrastructure. The project was considering traditional kerosene fuels from conventional and unconventional petroleum resources; hydrocarbon fuels derived from fossil fuels such as oil sands and oil shale; synthetic liquid fuels manufactured from coal, biomass, or natural gas; hydroprocessed renewable jet fuel made from renewable oil resources including those from algae; and advanced techniques of converting sugars to jet fuel.

This work expanded upon 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 under this project is was done in collaboration with investigators from Projects 3, 20, 27, 30, and 31. The results are relevant to the NextGen environmental and energy goals relating to the development of alternative jet fuels.


The project significantly improved our understanding about the environmental costs and benefits of alternative jet fuels. It evaluated life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from alternative jet fuels on a screening level, developed a first-order fuel production cost model, developed alternative fuel usage scenarios that deliver specified greenhouse gas reductions and expanded the environmental analysis to consider sustainability in terms of land, water, and air.

Participating university

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lead investigator

Steven Barrett, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sbarrett@mit.edu

Project managers

Warren Gillette (FAA) warren.gillette@faa.gov
William Harrison (U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory) william.harrison@wpafb.af.mil
James Edwards (U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory) james.edwards@wpafb.af.mil
Daniel Baniszewski (Defense Logistics Agency) daniel.baniszewski@dla.mil

Project 28 is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.


A techno-economic review of hydroprocessed renewable esters and fatty acids for jet fuel production, Pearlson, Wollersheim, Hileman. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 89–96, January/February 2013

Impact of Non-CO2 Combustion Effects from Aviation on the Climate Change Mitigation Potential of Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene, Stratton, Wolfe and Hileman, Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (24), pp 10736–10743, 2011

Quantifying Variability in Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Inventories of Alternative Middle Distillate Transportation Fuels, Stratton, R.W., Wong, H.M., and Hileman, J.I., Environmental Science & Technology 45 (10), 4637-4644, 2011.

• Energy and Environmental Viability of Select Alternative Jet Fuel Pathways, Carter, N.A., Stratton, R.W., Bredehoeft, M.K., and Hileman, J.I., 47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, San Diego, CA, August 2011. Download (pdf. 2.6M)

• Energy Content and Alternative Jet Fuel Viability, Hileman J.I., Stratton, R.W., and Donohoo, P.E., Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 26, No. 6, pp. 1184-1196, 2010. doi: 10.2514/1.46232. Download (pdf 3.9M)

• Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Alternative Jet Fuels (Version 1.2). Russell W. Stratton, Hsin Min Wong, James I. Hileman. A PARTNER Project 28 report. June 2010. Report No. PARTNER-COE-2010-001 Download (pdf 5.3M)

The Aviation Fuel Life Cycle Assessment Working Group, "Framework and Guidance for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Footprints of Aviation Fuels," Air Force Research Laboratory Report AFRL-RZ-WP-TR-2009-2206, April 2009. Download (pdf 3M)

• Estimating Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Alternative Jet Fuels. Presented at the ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels, 16 - 18 November 2009, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Download (pdf 86K)

• Comparison of Life Cycle Ghg Emissions From Select Alternative Jet Fuels. Presented at the ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels, 16 - 18 November 2009, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Download (pdf 2.9M)

• U.S. Fuel Trends Analysis. Presented at the Fourth Meeting of the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC/4-I/P12), 25-27 May 2009, Montréal, Canada. Download (pdf 7.9M)