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Airlines could one day abandon the use of traditional jet fuel thanks to an effective new alternative: 'We're already using it now'

Yet challenges remain.

Yet challenges remain.

Photo Credit: iStock

In an exciting move toward sustainable fuel, airlines are exploring powering planes with biofuels made from corn and other plants.

This would slash aviation pollution and boost American farming, bringing tidy financial and environmental wins, according to The New York Times.

Turning corn into ethanol for fuel could funnel money into rural economies all across the United States — and it's already happening.

In 2023, United Airlines signed a deal with a Nebraska ethanol company to buy enough ethanol to power 50,000 flights a year, and Delta announced plans to create a sustainable fuel hub in Minnesota.

The Biden administration is also jumping on board with plans to support American crop-to-fuel innovation through new clean energy tax credits.

Aviation churns out 2% of the planet's carbon pollution, according to the International Energy Agency — more than some countries produce. Biofuels can curb that output while putting money in farmers' pockets.

Yet challenges remain. Ramping up corn production on short notice would pressure limited water reserves. Steps must be taken to safeguard precious aquifers as this exciting new market sprouts wings.

"There's only so much land, and we're already using it now," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. "The West has been settled. That's the rumor."

But forward-thinking states such as Minnesota are already leading the way. Jake Wildman, a corn farmer outside Glenwood, knows firsthand the power of innovation to maximize yields. To combat the sandy soil that is prevalent in parts of the state, Wildman had to invest in digging a well and installing an irrigation system in order to produce high yields of the crop. 

"I can say confidently that without irrigation, you just wouldn't have corn on this farm," he said. "And the market tells us to raise corn. So you could say that the market is also telling us to irrigate."

Wildman's bullish outlook shows that with continuing improvements to irrigation systems, corn-based biofuels can scale up responsibly. In a statement to The New York Times, the Department of Energy agreed that "water use is a critical component of the conversation surrounding bioenergy sustainability."

Politicians are wise to tie new clean fuel incentives to sustainable best practices. This will ensure a win-win for American wallets and groundwater.

"Mark my words, the next 20 years, farmers are going to provide 95% of all the sustainable airline fuel," President Joe Biden said.

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