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Guess what? Biofuels are, in fact, better for the environment when used in jet engines

Why it matters to you

We're flying in airplanes more than ever today, so finding a way to cut down on the associated pollution is key. Luckily, NASA has shown that biofuels can help us do just that.

In news that ought to be news for absolutely no one, a new NASA study has confirmed what you probably already knew, or certainly could’ve guessed. As it turns out, when jet engines use biofuels, they emit fewer particle emissions in their exhaust trails. So yes, biofuels are, in fact, better for the environment than their fossil fuel alternatives.

“Using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent, in a new study conclusion that bodes well for airline economics and Earth’s environment,” NASA wrote in a press release this week.

The study involved test flights in 2013 and 2014, in which scientists collected data on engine performance, emissions, and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes frequented by commercial planes. Contrails are those white plumes you often see in the air left in a plane’s wake — they are, in fact, the result of hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with the cold air at that altitude.

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As it turns out, though, those contrails “create long-lasting, and sometimes extensive, clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere, and are believed to be a factor in influencing Earth’s environment,” according to NASA. And a major driver of those contrails is soot emissions, which often come from fossil fuels.

” … The observed particle reductions we’ve measured during [this study] should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimize their impact on Earth’s environment,” said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Planes that participated in the study used a 50-50 blend of traditional aviation fuel and a renewable alternative biofuel. “This was the first time we have quantified the amount of soot particles emitted by jet engines while burning a 50-50 blend of biofuel in flight,” said Rich Moore, lead author of the Nature report.

So rejoice, jetsetters. Soon, you may no longer have to feel as guilty for flying.