Deputy Commissioner of Sustainability for the Chicago Department of Aviation Visits UIUC

University of Illinois researchers and their collaborators have moved the world closer to running on biofuels.  This July, Amy Malick visited the UIUC campus as part of a mission to find ways to fly on them.  Malick, the Deputy Commissioner of Sustainability for the Chicago Department of Aviation, came to learn more about the work of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a collaboration between the University of Illinois; the University of California, Berkeley; and BP. The EBI is housed in part in the Institute for Genomic Biology, and is dedicated to the development and improvement of bioenergy sources.

Malick (at head of table, left) meets with members of the Energy Biosciences Institute at the Institute for Genomic Biology on the University of Illinois campus.

Jet fuel has important chemical differences from the gasoline used in automobiles, but the environmental and economic motivations to develop biofuel alternatives for each are similar.  Some of the same crops that can be converted into biofuels to power cars—Miscanthus, switchgrass, algae—have potential as a fuel source for airplanes.  However, developing a process to convert those crops to fuel that can be used in existing planes, one that is economically viable and ecologically suitable for a particular region, is a major challenge.

For the past year, Malick has served on a working group of the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI), a partnership between the Chicago Department of Aviation, United Airlines, Boeing, Honeywell, and the Clean Energy Trust.  MASBI was formed to develop a strategy for moving aviation toward more sustainable energy sources by taking advantage of the agriculture, economic centers, and research institutions of the Midwest region.

During her visit, Malick toured EBI lab and field sites, and met with faculty members.  Some of the breakthroughs that EBI has made in biofuel development and production may provide insight into the challenges surrounding jet biofuels.  Although EBI is not currently engaged in research on jet biofuels, its expertise and Midwest facility could make the goals of MASBI one intriguing potential future direction for the institute.

Malick was hosted by Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and EBI faculty member Jody Endres, who was also involved in MASBI.

Date Published: 
Sun, 08/18/2013 - 9:00am