Flying may be for the birds, but your next next transcontinental flight could be partially powered by horse-bedding materials such as straw and wood shavings rather than typical petroleum-based jet fuel.

In an effort to clean up emissions and reduce fossil fuel use by the industry, the French government is co-financing – to the tune of $32.1 million over the next eight years – the “ProBio3″ project which aims to develop new airline biofuels from waste grasses that can be safely mixed 50/50 with jet fuel.

“Tomorrow, planes will fly using agricultural and forest waste,” said Carole Molina-Jouve, a coordinator of the ProBio3 project and professor at Toulouse’s National Institute of Applied Sciences (Insa).

Hydroprocessed oils such as those produced from agricultural waste are approved for use in aviation applications and the French government wants to develop a a profitable manufacturing system for the fuel. By breaking down the waste product into sugars, mixing it with yeast, transforming it into a fat, and then treating it with hydrogen, the researchers are able to make a biofuel with properties like today’s petroleum in their lab. The key to making this a usable fuel of the future is to replicate this process in the real world on an industrial scale large enough to provide for airline’s needs.

Coming on the heels of the European Union’s mandate to lower biofuel blends derived from crop-based sources for use in transport, developing a fuel made from waste grasses and not food products could be just what the industry needs. Airbus recently began prepping for hydrogen fuel cell-powered flight tests, but seeing as how the company is also a backer of and partner in the ProBio3 project it seems obvious it believes there is also a future for biofuels produced from straw and wood chips.

[via Reuters]

Image Credit: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography/Flickr