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Photo by E. McArthur on Unsplash.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture have been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate regional biomass supply chains with regard to their potential for supplying feedstock for domestic fuel production as well as rural economic development, a potential game changer for farming communities.

The agricultural biomass feedstock targeted for analysis, nationally and regionally, includes oilseed cover crops—pennycress, soybean, canola, carinata, and camelina—and softwood logging residues. A supply chain that appears to be economically viable using a pennycress cover crop has been initially evaluated for west central Tennessee with the objective of supplying 40 percent of renewable aviation fuel for Nashville International Airport. The analysis includes evaluation of feedstock availability and supply chain requirements to grow, move, and crush feedstock and to transport fuel to the airport.

Airport regions to be examined are tentatively Nashville and Memphis for the oilseed pathway and Chattanooga, Birmingham, and Atlanta for the logging residues pathway.

The use of biomass feedstock may reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent compared to petroleum-based fuels. In order to achieve the aviation industry’s goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2050, however, the pace of commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels must be accelerated, which requires the development of production systems that increase economic efficiency.

“This one-year grant project will accelerate the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels by generating strategic information and educating stakeholders on production pathways that can increase economic efficiency, enhance sustainability awareness, leverage economics of scope and scale, and reduce renewable fuel costs,” said lead researcher Burton C. English, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at UTIA.

The researchers will analyze the economic viability and environmental impacts of using cover crops as a biomass feedstock, as well as feedstock availability and quality. Collaborating on components of the project are Washington State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and Pennsylvania State University.

Finally, the UTIA team will develop a plan for regional implementation of the sustainable aviation fuel supply chain in Tennessee and the Southeast, including projections of job creation, economic activity, labor income, farmer revenue, and state and local taxes generated from growth in the aviation biofuel industry itself and through multiplier effects.

This research is part of the Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT) project—a cooperative aviation research organization co-led by Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ASCENT is funded by the FAA, NASA, the US Department of Defense, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Transport Canada. The research cooperative includes 16 leading US research universities and more than 60 private-sector stakeholders. Additional resources include a partnership with international research programs, federal agencies, and national laboratories.


Tina Johnson (865-974-7418,