Renewable jet fuel key to compliance with Europe’s GHG rules — Vilsack

Source: Tiffany Stecker and Julia Pyper, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The five-year extension of the Agriculture Department’s “Farm to Fly” initiative will help airlines comply with international greenhouse gas caps, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said yesterday.

The agreement between USDA and the Federal Aviation Administration is designed to promote biofuels in the aviation industry. The first phase of the effort ran from 2010 to 2012. Participants hope the effort will generate 1 billion gallons of renewable aviation fuels that can drop in existing engines by 2018.

“Airlines are faced with a number of regulations internationally from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, and this biofuel will help them meet those standards,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who signed a memorandum of understanding with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference in National Harbor, Md. “It’s not only the creation of a new industry but also one that will benefit the environment.”

Alternative fuels have become a focus at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as the U.N. organization strives to forge a global agreement to mitigate aviation emissions in response to European climate legislation (ClimateWire, April 1). Text from the full ICAO Assembly meeting in September is expected to contain statements about the role of sustainable aviation fuel in the global effort to reduce aviation greenhouse gas emissions.

The renewed Farm to Fly initiative will seek to create supply chains that promote different types of fuel feedstocks — algae, solid waste or grasses, for example — depending on what makes sense in any one region in the country. It also engages new direct participants, including the Aerospace Industries Association, and interest groups representing general aviation and business jets.

Cutting costs and fossil-fueled emissions

The airline industry has made a concerted effort to prove itself an attractive biofuels customer in recent years to mitigate the impacts of rising fuel prices, but also because it sees alternative fuels as a critical element in meeting the industry goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020.

“We in the last few years have really promoted alternative fuels for aviation,” said Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at the trade group Airlines for America (A4A). “We know how to fly them, we can do it safely, it’s good for emissions, and it has energy security benefits for the United States.”

In 2009, Continental Airlines took off on a blend of algae and jatropha oil made by Sapphire Energy Inc. Two years later, United Airlines flew on an algae-petroleum mix provided by Solazyme Inc. In the same week, Alaska Airlines flew two planes from the Pacific Northwest to Washington, D.C., on a used cooking oil blend provided by Dynamic Fuels LLC, a joint venture between Tyson Foods and synthetic fuel maker Syntroleum Corp.

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on us to address climate change, he called it the greatest task of this generation,” said LaHood to the audience of approximately 600 representatives of the advanced biofuels industry. “Coming up with alternative jet fuels that are cleaner and kinder to the environment will help us do just that, and you all are at the forefront.”

Much of the research for the initiative will be funded by the department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Currently, three of NIFA’s six coordinated agricultural projects target aviation biofuels. One University of Washington-led project would convert hardwood into gasoline and jet fuel. Another, housed at Washington State University, is researching how to convert forestry waste from the logging industry. The third at the University of Tennessee seeks to makes fuels out of switch grass and wood.