Obama announces major investment towards developing the aviation advanced biofuels sector in the US
President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Tue 16 Aug 2011 – President Obama today announced an investment of $510 million over the next three years towards developing an industry to develop and produce drop-in advanced aviation and marine biofuels for the US defence and commercial sectors. The funding will come from the US Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Energy and Navy and is to be matched equally with finance from the private sector. Without mentioning environmental concerns, the USDA said the partnership aims to reduce US reliance on foreign oil and create jobs, while positioning American companies and farmers to be global leaders in advanced biofuels production. The United States spends over $300 billion on imported crude each year. To accelerate the production of bio-based jet and diesel fuel for military and commercial purposes, the Secretaries of the three agencies have developed a plan to jointly construct or retrofit several drop-in biofuel plants and refineries.
“Biofuels are an important part of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home,” said Obama. “But supporting biofuels cannot be the role of government alone. That’s why we’re partnering with the private sector to speed development of next-generation biofuels that will help us continue to take steps towards energy independence and strengthen communities across our country.”
In an earlier speech in March (see article), Obama said: “Competitively-priced drop-in biofuels could help meet the fuel needs of the Navy, as well as the commercial aviation and shipping sectors.”
The cross-agency collaboration is being steered by the White House Biofuels Interagency Work Group and Rural Council.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said long-term national security was dependent on a commercially viable domestic biofuels market. He added the initiative would help advance the biofuels market and ultimately bring down the cost of biofuels for all.
As well as being a national energy security imperative, providing jobs and opportunities for America’s rural communities, particularly farmers, is also at the forefront of accelerating the drive to developing a home-grown advanced biofuels sector.
“By building a national biofuels industry, we are creating construction jobs, refinery jobs and economic opportunity in rural communities throughout the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As importantly, every gallon of biofuel consumed near where it is produced cuts transportation costs and, for the military, improves energy security.”
Energy Secretary Steven Chu commented: “These pioneer plants will demonstrate advanced technologies to produce infrastructure-compatible drop-in renewable fuels from America’s abundant biomass resources.”
In a speech at the Paris Air Show in June (see article), Vilsack said: “The USDA is excited about the opportunities presented by the requirement for aviation biofuels as it provides an opportunity for farmers to diversify income, and to take non-productive land which can be used for fuel feedstocks.”
At the show, he announced five ‘virtual’ research centres would be collaborating with universities and the private sector to identify potentially efficient and workable feedstocks.
The announcement has been welcomed by the US aviation industry.
“This initiative is crucial to help turn the promise of advanced aviation biofuels into reality, enhancing America’s energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs,” commented Air Transport Association (ATA) President and CEO Nicholas Calio. “We already know how to produce and safely fly aviation biofuels, so the government investment will help clear the last hurdle and make the fuels commercially viable.”
ATA said it remained committed to doing its part through its ongoing initiatives, including the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), the Strategic Alliance for Alternative Fuels with the US military, and the Farm-to-Fly programme with the USDA and Boeing, to further the development and deployment of sustainable alternative aviation fuels.
Added Calio: “The USDA, the DOE and the Navy are doing what the federal government did in jump-starting the Internet, satellite systems and other backbone infrastructure – working with industry to help make these ventures self-sustaining.”
The involvement of the Navy and the emphasis on energy security might suggest the prime objective of the initiative is to supply the US military with advanced biofuels. However, CAAFI Executive Director Richard Altman points out that the Navy represents just 2.5% of the US aviation market compared to the 85-90% share taken by commercial aviation.
“Commercial aviation is in a position to win in a very major way,” he said. “The biofuels industry needs ‘first of a kind’ commercial facilities to attract private investors. This is the key action that will leverage private investment to build capacity.
“Commercial aviation is among the ‘private sector’ partners that are being counted upon to make this action a success. We welcome both the opportunity and the responsibility.”
The White House announcement also received praise from US environmental group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) but it came with a sting. EDF said the initiative had the potential both to promote low-carbon options for ships and planes and to help rural economies, but added it would have an even greater impact if the Administration also supported Europe’s aviation anti-pollution law. EDF has actively opposed the ATA’s European legal suit against the inclusion of US airlines in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
“Emissions from aviation and shipping are both accelerating and poorly regulated, so it’s welcome to see an investment in efforts to reduce them,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, Director of EDF’s International Climate Program. “How unfortunate, then, that the Administration is supporting an initiative to stimulate development of advanced biofuels, while at the same time opposing a law in Europe that would reward US airlines for using them. Clearly the Administration could multiply the positive effects of this initiative on rural jobs and green growth by also supporting the EU’s Aviation Directive.”