Oilseed, forest residues, municipal solid waste and algae are all promising feedstocks for the future of aviation, according to an industry research initiative that includes Boeing and Alaska Airlines.
A report out last week from Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest said that no single technology is likely to provide enough sustainable fuel to meet the organization’s goals. The group wants to see the aviation industry achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2020, and says that diverse research and development will be needed to get there.
The report, Powering the Next Generation of Flight (pdf), said that recommended techniques to convert the feedstock to fuel include hydroprocessing as well as technologies that use heat, chemicals and microorganisms to process woody biomass into fuels and chemicals.
For each feedstock, the SAFN report identifies a proposed action plan to help overcome key commercial and sustainability challenges and speed fuel production.
SAFN was launched in July last year with the aim of exploring the opportunities and challenges surrounding the production of sustainable aviation fuels. Its members include the region’s three largest airports – the Port of Seattle, Port of Portland and Spokane International Airport – as well as Washington State University, a center for advanced biofuels research.
Stakeholders include the Air Transport Association, the U.S. departments of agriculture, energy and defense, Weyerhouser and Honeywell subsidiary UOP.
The report noted that aviation does not have the same array of energy alternatives as other sectors, such as ground transportation, heating and electricity generation. These three sectors place the biggest current demands on biomass, the report said, but aviation has the clearest need for liquid, energy-dense fuels.
SAFN said that supportive government policies are critical to jump-start the industry, attract investment and accelerate growth. Support for aviation biofuels should be at least equal to policies supporting other transport and energy sectors, the report said.
In particular, the report recommended that government agencies including the military be able to enter into long-term contracts for advanced fuels, and that the government expand biofuel incentives including the Biorefinery Assistance Program, excise tax incentives and measures included under the Farm Bill, ensuring that aviation fuels qualify for these incentives. Aviation fuel should also qualify under the Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) program, allowing producers of such fuels to earn valuable market-based credits, the report said, and regional research institutions should get priority for their biofuel research efforts.
The Northwest is especially well positioned to play a leading role in the aviation biomass industry because of its strong local companies, concentrated demand, leading expertise and significant biomass resources, the report said (see map, above).
Boeing has said that biofuels will be essential to the company meeting its carbon-neutrality goals. The company, together with airline carriers, has been testing new biofuels since 2008 as a way to increase fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, Airbus parent EADS has started research into using algae for jet fuel and debuted the first aircraft to be powered solely by algae.
Earlier this month, a GE Aviation study said that airlines could save at least $65.6 million annually while cutting carbon emissions and flight times by implementing new flight paths at 46 mid-size airports across the U.S.
The aviation sector will be the second-largest in Europe’s carbon trading system when the industry joins the market next year, the European Commission (EC) has said.