Revolutionizing the jet fuel industry with biofuel made from oilseed

June 25, 2018 by Susan Bell, University of Southern California
Alumnus Steve Fabijanski on the tarmac at LAX with the Qantas airplane bound for Melbourne, Australia, that was partially powered by biojet fuel developed by his company, Agrisoma. Photos courtesy of Steve Fabijanski. Credit: University of Southern California

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner roared down the runway before sailing serenely up into the skies over Los Angeles International Airport. The recent Qantas flight, heading for Melbourne, Australia, seemed like any other leaving LAX, except for the fact that this plane was partially powered by biojet fuel, making for a reduced carbon footprint.

That this—the world's first United States to Australia biofuel flight—happened at all, is thanks to USC Dornsife alumnus Steve Fabijanski.

While less than 5 percent of flights are currently powered by blending biofuel with traditional jet fuel, he is optimistic that eventually half of the more than 79 billion gallons of fuel used by the airline industry will be replaced by biofuel.

Fabijanski, who earned his Ph.D. in biology in 1981, is the CEO and president of Agrisoma Biosciences Inc., the company he founded in 2001 in Quebec, Canada, to provide a solution for more sustainable commercial transportation.

The answer, he found, lay in a mustard-like oilseed called carinata. Closely resembling kale in appearance, the plant, a combination of canola and mustard, has long been eaten as a vegetable in North Africa.

Fabijanski's team used plant-breeding techniques to develop carinata into a non-GMO seed-producing crop containing high levels of oil and protein. The chemical composition of the oil makes it particularly well-suited to being refined into jet fuel. Once processed, carinata is chemically identical to conventional, fossil-fuel derived jet fuel.

In fact, Fabijanski says, anyone examining a gallon of and a gallon of carinata-derived biojet fuel would be hard pressed to tell them apart.

But that's not all, he argues. Carinata offers a win-win-win situation: for the environment, for the world's food supply and for farmers.

Not only does biojet fuel reduce our , the protein contained in carinata seeds can be used for animal feed. The plant also has the capacity to rejuvenate and enrich the soil.

His company's mantra, he stresses, is to grow this crop without taking food out of production.

"We want to add to the overall food supply through this animal feed product so we can produce energy and more food, but not increase the footprint of farming," he said. "That's one of the big challenges—how to feed and power the planet without taking away natural prairie and pasture."

The answer? Fabijanski developed carinata to flourish in areas where typical food crops won't grow or during a season where a food crop cannot be grown due to crop rotation.

"The company we formed was built on the idea that we can do better with what's available and we can do more with less," Fabijanski said of Agrisoma.

Feeding the world

Born in 1960s Chicago to a machinist and a housewife, Fabijanski's upbringing during a politically turbulent era not only helped forged his belief that it was possible to change things for the better, but also sharpened his determination to do so.

"I remember Civil Rights riots, Watergate, the Vietnam War—all these areas where, if you had enough people focused in the right direction, you could actually change things," he said. "Part of that philosophy rubbed off on me."

Fabijanski originally wanted to be a marine biologist, attending the University of Miami for his undergraduate degree, but his growing interest in genetics and protein chemistry and his desire to work with Maria Pellegrini, formerly professor and chair of biology and dean of research, brought him to graduate school at USC Dornsife.

There, Fabijanski said he found freedom to be creative and to think differently.

"Those were the best years of my life. Biology, at that point, was throwing out surprises that nobody could see six months before. It was a very exciting time to be part of that."

Fabijanski's first focus after earning his doctorate was how to use technology to increase crop yields in order to feed the world.

The solution—creating hybrid seeds, which provide better crop performance and overall yield—came to Fabijanski and a group of fellow scientists over beers in a Toronto bar. Originally sketched out on a cocktail napkin, this pioneering concept underpinned Fabijanski's first company, Paladin Hybrids, one of the first companies to apply techniques of biotechnology to the production of hybrid seeds.

To invigorate self-pollinating plants, their thinking went, they could make them into male or female plants, then combine them to create hybrid seeds.

Fabijanski filed the patent for the idea—one of 96 he currently holds. It's the one that makes him happiest. It's also the one, he notes, that's underpinning the 22-million-acre-strong Canadian canola seed industry.

"To see an invention go to a patent, and then see that patent show up in regular commerce was a huge accomplishment, both from a patent and a development perspective," he said.

However, of all his achievements to date, Fabijanski is most proud of his degree from USC Dornsife. It inspired him, he says, to try to change the world.

"It's a lofty goal, but I think we've made an impact in terms of demonstrating there are ways to create positive change that don't require you to wear organic cotton T-shirts and Birkenstocks. You can actually work within a well-established industry to bring about some meaningful change so it becomes more sustainable."

Explore further: First solely-biofuel jet flight raises clean travel hopes

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not rated yet Jun 25, 2018
Meanwhile it is known that bio-fuel from oilseeds and especially oil-palms based bio-fuel is an ecological and cultural desaster! - It causes lots of issues: It is neither ecologically a sustainable solution (just another business based on a green lie) nor is it beneficial for the citizens of the countries where oil palms are grown. These seeds might be a better solution, but how many square kilometers of this monoculture are necessary, reducing the space for food production? Seen in the right dimension, in a global view, reducing the energy consumption is finally the only reasonable solution. Only then such attempts can be helpful additional measures, but just as a second step and not with the current energy consumption policy. In th ecurrent situation, they are just a trappy measure shifting the problem to other people, other countries and our children and grand-children.
not rated yet Jun 25, 2018
Seen in the right dimension, in a global view, reducing the energy consumption is finally the only reasonable solution
And how did you arrive at the conclusion that there is only one solution? Here is an example -

Bren Smith calculates that we could feed the world on a 3D ocean farm the size of Washington State. This is just one example. You could look at 'Greening the Desert' - https://www.youtu...I6vnWZmk

I don't see the problem as lack of options. I see it as lack of imagination on the part of homo stupidus. Few seem interested in breaking out of religious tribalism - into exploring better ways of organizing ourselves in more sustainable ways.
not rated yet Jun 25, 2018
While less than 5 percent of flights are currently powered by blending biofuel with traditional jet fuel, he is optimistic that eventually half of the more than 79 billion gallons of fuel used by the airline industry will be replaced by biofuel

79 billion gallons isn't nearly enough.


World production of jet fuel is 5.3 billion barrels a year. That's more than 200 billion gallons.

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