US FAA announces alternative energy investments for cleaner jet fuel

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is awarding US$7.7 million in contracts to eight companies to help advance alternative, environmentally-friendly, sustainable sources for commercial jet fuel.

The FAA funds are being distributed by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) John A. Volpe Centre.
“These new green aviation fuels will use energy sources right here at home,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “This type of innovation will create good-paying jobs in the airline and energy industries and help protect the environment at the same time.”

The contracts address a recommendation issued by the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, which was commissioned by Secretary LaHood last year. The committee, comprised of experts from industry, academia, labour and government, specifically recommended that DOT exercise strong national leadership to promote and display U.S. aviation as a first user of sustainable alternative fuels.

Accordingly, the eight companies selected for the contracts will help the FAA develop and approve alternative, sustainably sourced “drop-in” jet fuels that can be used without changing aircraft engine systems or airport fuelking infrastructure. As part of that work, the companies will develop these biofuels from sources such as alcohols, sugars, biomass, and organic materials known as pyrolysis oils. In addition, the contracts call for research into alternative jet fuel quality control, examination of how jet biofuels affect engine durability, and provide guidance to jet biofuel users about factors that affect sustainability.
“Alternative aviation fuels offer enormous potential environmental and economic benefits,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “This work, in combination with investments being made by other U.S. agencies and industry, will advance our pursuit of clean alternative jet fuels for a more sustainable NextGen aviation system in the United States and around the world.”

The contracts build on alternative fuel development investments by the Departments of Defence, Energy, Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by FAA.

A third of the airline industry’s operating costs go to fuel, making the use of environmentally friendly, safe aviation biofuel a priority, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said recently.
“Air transport needs fuel that is safe, used in an environmentally responsible manner, with a reliable supply and at reasonable cost,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO in an address to the IATA Fuel Forum, taking place in Paris, France.
“Fuel is closely linked to one of aviation’s great challenges—to reduce its carbon emissions. Airlines are responsible for 2% of global manmade CO2 emissions. Aviation must be sustainable. Sustainability is our license to grow and provide the connectivity that has turned our planet into a global community. We have embraced this with commitments to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% annually to 2020, cap net emissions from 2020 and cut net emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels,” said Tyler.

Tyler cited the importance of introducing sustainable biofuels to this effort. “Sustainable biofuels are safe, approved and airlines are using them for commercial flights. With the potential to cut aviation’s carbon footprint by up to 80% over the lifecycle of the fuel, sustainable biofuels have the potential to be a game changer. But they are still expensive and supply is limited. In other words, we need to commercialize them,” said Tyler.

Tyler outlined six steps for governments to promote the successful commercialization of sustainable biofuels: (1) foster research into new feedstock sources and refining processes, (2) de-risk public and private investments in aviation biofuels, (3) provide incentives for airlines to use biofuels from an early stage, (4) encourage stakeholders to commit to robust international sustainability criteria, (5) make the most of local green growth opportunities, and (6) encourage coalitions encompassing all parts of the supply chain.



In 2011, the airline industry’s fuel bill is expected to be US$176 billion (30% of operating costs) based on oil at US$110 per barrel. In 2012, the fuel bill is expected to reach US$201 billion (32% of operating costs) based on an average oil price US$100 per barrel. Overall industry profitability is expected to decline from US$6.9 billion (1.2% net margin) in 2011 to US$4.9 billion (0.8% net margin) in 2012.