USDA, DOT sign agreement to support renewable fuels for airlines

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Departments of Agriculture and Transportation today renewed a multiyear agreement to fast-track the development of a domestic aviation biofuels industry.

The program builds on USDA’s “Farm to Fly” initiative and will target funding toward building up the supply chains and infrastructure necessary to support an advanced jet fuel industry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today at an annual biofuels industry conference. They signed a memorandum of understanding solidifying the agreement for the next five years.

The program primarily focuses on commercial airlines, which are looking toward biofuels to cope with rising fuel costs and increased pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Coming up with alternative jet fuels that are cleaner and kinder to the environment will help us” address climate change, LaHood said. “These new fuels will not only reduce aviation’s carbon footprint, but they will also help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration and USDA have set a lofty goal of 1 billion gallons of commercial aviation biofuel capacity by 2018. But although airlines and the military have conducted more than 1,700 flights on biofuels since 2008, widespread use has so far been stymied by the lack of a drop-in biofuels market in the United States.

Farm to Fly began in July 2010 with the support of aviation trade group Airlines for America Inc. and Boeing Co. Shortly after, USDA and DOT signed a three-year agreement to build up aviation biofuels. Through the initiative, USDA and DOT have provided millions of dollars toward aviation research, including $40 million grants to the University of Washington and Washington State University to study the Pacific Northwest’s biofuels potential.

During the next two years of the program, the Agriculture and Transportation departments plan to coordinate a public-private working group that will focus on feedstock development, logistics of transporting biofuels to aviation partners, sustainability of biofuel crops and the creation of risk management tools to make it easier for farmers to embrace new feedstocks.

USDA will also target funding to six regional bioenergy research centers to study which feedstocks work best for the different regions of the country.

The two secretaries announced the agreement at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference in National Harbor in Maryland. In a speech, Vilsack expressed his support for biofuels in general, acknowledging the political and economic challenges the industry has faced in recent months.

acknowledging the political and economic challenges the industry has faced in recent months.

“We want to reaffirm the importance of this particular industry in this administration and at this point of time in our country’s history,” Vilsack said.