Corn Ethanol to fuel Aircraft if USDA’s $400k review of GHG subsidy plan works 

Biofuel aircraft

Corn-based ethanol by aviation companies may qualify for subsidies under the greenhouse gas (GHG) system of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The federal agency plans to spend $400,000 to review the eligibility of corn-based aviation biofuels for subsidy allocation.

If it succeeds, federal financing of aviation biofuel will become a major breakthrough in American green energy use outside agriculture.

Aviation companies such as Lufthansa of Germany are already successfully using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to fly.  Similarly, the USDA system encourages firms to grow biofuel at home and reduce gas emissions associated with gasoline by 50%. 

USDA first set aside $50 million for the Inflation Reduction Act on June 26, 2023. Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture said on that date that the aim was to bring clean energy closer “to rural and farm communities.”

Besides, the GHG system will help Americans produce cheap energy from safe biofuels right at home. It will also help cut dependence on oil imports.

The aircraft biofuel issue has been under discussion for sometime due to opposition from environmentalists. Climate activists cite the degradation of agricultural land to grow corn and other biofuel crops like sweet potatoes

President Joe Biden is yet to give a nod on whether the biofuels sector should gain access to the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) model.

 GREET is an U.S. Department of Energy’s model and the foundation of the USDA’s GHG plan.

According to Vilsack, USDA is already adjusting GREET by “spending our own  resources.”

The agency will spend up to $400K by December, 2023 to fit aircraft corn-based ethanol in its current GHG plan.

Vilsack is preparing to discuss the matter with the Treasury, Transportation and Environment secretaries. 

To meet USDA’s tax-friendly borrowings, however, the aviation sector must offer practical proof that SAF biofuels will cut emissions by 50%.

The current beneficiaries of the GHG model’s grants are all outside the aviation sector. They include Kimmes Enterprises LLC,  a fuel dispenser in Iowa and Farmers Cooperative Oil Company, a Minnesota ethanol-dispensing rural firm.  The third is a New York-based biodiesel company, Carmel Terminals Inc. All three firms have proven that they will increase their respective clean energy production by between 122,000 and 16 million gallons. 

But will farmers actually clear thousands of acres just to give airlines tract to grow corn for ethanol fuel? Farmers in the U.S. want GREET to measure emissions before allowing airlines into their fields.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, gun for United Nations’ CORSIA, a similar model to GREET, only harsher. CORSIA punishes industries that raise emissions by felling trees and reducing agricultural land. 

Current projections by CORSIA is that the use of corn ethanol by the aviation industry may actually raise emissions.  The model cites that clean energy companies will take advantage of tax incentives instead of developing land.