Diverse feedstocks and government support required to meet aviation biofuels demand, says US Northwest report
Mon 6 June 2011 – A variety of feedstocks and technologies are necessary to fulfil a substantial demand for sustainable aviation biofuels in the Northwest region of the United States, according to a report published by over 40 stakeholders representing the aviation and biofuels industries, research, agriculture and forestry, and government agencies. Launched in July 2010, the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) initiative – largely driven by Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Washington State University and three of the region’s largest airports – has identified potential pathways and actions needed to make aviation biofuels available to airline operators in the region. While the study does not advocate permanent government support, public investment and parity with other biofuels programmes will be required, particularly in the early stages, to place the industry on an economically competitive basis.
Commenting on the publication of the 132-page report, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh said: “It is critical to the future of aviation that we develop a sustainable supply of aviation biofuels. Airlines are particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, and the aviation community must address this issue to maintain economic growth and further mitigate the environmental impacts of our industry.”
The study says the Northwest region – encompassing the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana – is a substantial and growing market for commercial and military jet fuel, currently estimated at 865 million gallons annually and forecast to grow to more than one billion gallons per year by 2030. It argues that developing a sustainable biofuels industry would result in significant job creation and tax revenues, provide leadership in an emerging global industry and substantially reduce financial outflows from the region to pay for imported petroleum.
In order to make such an industry a reality, the study outlines an integrated approach recommending the use of many diverse local feedstock and technology pathways, including oilseeds such as camelina, forest residues, municipal solid waste and algae. For each feedstock, it identifies a proposed ‘flight path’ to help overcome key commercial and sustainability challenges and speed fuel production.
“No single feedstock or technology pathway is likely to provide sustainable aviation fuel at the scale or speed needed to achieve our goals,” say the SAFN participants.
Given the lack of alternative sources of energy available, they urge decision and policy makers to recognise a critical importance in developing biofuels for the aviation industry.
“Support for aviation biofuels should at a minimum be equal to policies supporting other transport and energy sectors,” recommends the report. “Ideally, considering aviation’s economic, cultural and security importance, sustainable aviation fuels should gain a priority.”
It also calls for “well-integrated, consistent” policies to help mitigate critical risks for feedstock growers and producers, and government agencies, including the military, should be allowed to enter into long-term contracts for the advanced fuels. The government should also expand biofuel incentives, excise tax incentives and measures included under the US Farm Bill.
The report says aviation fuel should also qualify under the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard 2 programme, allowing producers of such fuels to earn valuable market-based credits, and research institutions should get priority for their biofuel research efforts.
The participants agree that sustainability is a key issue in the development of aviation biofuels. “Sustainability should be a crucial consideration as policies are shaped for biofuels generally and more specifically for aviation. This will ensure that policies are crafted to achieve the desired result – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing other impacts – and provide solid measurement and data capability to withstand scrutiny.”
The report calls on stakeholders and broader regional and national interests to act on the findings. “The payback will be a new regional industry that strengthens traditional economic sectors from farming and forestry to aerospace, creates new companies and jobs, and places the long-term future of aviation on an environmentally sounds basis,” it concludes.