Sustainable Energy

Why airplanes could soon be flying on seeds

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Is this the future of aviation?

We've come a long way since 1903, when the Wright brothers flew the world's first powered aeroplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But our thirst for travel is costing more than an air ticket.

Today, in the U.S. alone, more than 87,000 flights take place every day, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), global flights produced 705 million tonnes of CO2 in 2013. ATAG adds that the global aviation industry is responsible for roughly 2 percent of "human induced carbon dioxide… emissions."

Lucidio Studio Inc | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

In 2012 – almost 100 years since the Wright brothers made history – another historic flight took place when the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) flew what it described as, "The first civil jet powered by unblended biofuel."

The biofuel used came from what the NRC described as oilseed crops that had been commercialized by Canada's Agrisoma Biosciences.

Speaking to CNBC's Sustainable Energy about the fuel produced from Agrisoma's oilseed crops, Steve Fabijanski, CEO of Agrisoma, said it was unique and behaved, "identically to petroleum."

"There are no changes that need to be made with the fuel handling system or the engine and the fuel burns cleaner and is a more efficient fuel," Fabijanski added.

"Since the 100% biojet flight, Agrisoma has been expanding the commercialization of the crop as well as further work on the reduction of aircraft emissions," Fabijanski added over email.

"In terms of commercialization of the crop, to date more than 20,000 acres of crop have been commercially grown by over 140 innovative farmers in North America."

Fabijanski also said that after extensive testing by the United States Department of Agriculture over several years, the crop was now being evaluated for commercial production in both Europe and South America.

Biofuels are becoming an increasingly important and innovative part of the planet's energy mix, with the International Energy Agency stating that they could provide 27 percent of the world's transportation fuel by 2050.

In the U.K., for example, London based green energy company bio-bean are taking waste coffee grounds and turning them into bio-diesel, while Edinburgh's Celtic Renewables is turning the by-products of whisky into a next generation biofuel.

The oilseed produced by Agrisoma is called "Resonance carinata." Described by the company as being hardy and drought tolerant, it is a non-food crop that can be grown on fallow land that would otherwise lie unused.

"This work is unique, because we are able to measure the carbon from the farmer's field all the way to the exhaust pipe of the airplane at 37,000 feet over Montreal," Fabijanski said.

He also explained that a 50lb bag of seed would produce up to 8,000 litres of jet fuel, with the by-product a nutritional animal feed.