US Farm to Fly initiative to develop national aviation biofuel industry receives boost from Energy Department
Tue 2 Sept 2014 – Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson has announced the US Department of Energy is joining the Farm to Fly 2.0 initiative to support the development of a commercially viable aviation biofuel industry in the United States. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Boeing and airline trade body Airlines for America launched Farm to Fly in 2010 and the programme was extended for a further five years in April 2013 with additional partners including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and other aviation industry representative groups. The aim of Farm to Fly 2.0 is to set up supply chains in the US that are able to support a goal of producing one billion gallons of sustainable jet biofuel for use by airlines by 2018.
The US airline industry uses 23 billion gallons of jet fuel annually and globally was responsible for 777 million tons (705 metric tonnes) of carbon emissions in 2013, says the Energy Department (DOE). Fossil fuel costs are the largest expense for airlines yet, unlike passenger cars, liquid fuels remain the only viable source for the sector, it adds.
As part of its contribution to Farm to Fly 2.0, DOE will provide technical guidance on alternative fuel production and assist with the process of jet fuel certification, testing and qualification. It also aims to play a greater role in the FAA’s newly formed Center for Alternative Fuels and Environment.
“Through Farm to Fly 2.0, the Energy Department, USDA, FAA and aviation partners are creating an increasingly vibrant and robust alternative jet fuel sector that will contribute to a thriving bioeconomy, improve rural communities, create jobs, and ensure a more secure and environmentally sound energy future for the United States,” it said.
As a result of the ‘Blueprint for a secure energy future’ initiative announced by President Obama in March 2011, which aims to reduce US oil imports by one-third by 2025 and provide jobs in rural communities, DOE is already funding R&D and pilot and demonstration scale projects that produce renewable diesel and jet fuel for military and civil aviation use.
Welcoming the participation of DOE in Farm to Fly 2.0, CAAFI Executive Director Steve Csonka told GreenAir: “The addition of resources and focus will clearly help us in our efforts to move further in the direction of targeted demonstration and deployment. If we are able to replicate the success of DOE in identifying and enabling technologies and processes that will soon deliver low-cost cellulosic ethanol, the effort will be significant.”
More specifically, Csonka is looking for additional assistance from DOE in three key areas:
Further techno-economic analysis of fuel production pathways, identification of common/unique technologies that might provide cost reduction, and pursuit of development of those technologies;
Improved integration in the analysis of feedstock production systems, shortcomings and solutions; and
The development and support of pilot and/or demonstration-scale facilities, which in turn can assist with fuel production for fuel qualification work.
“Will it occur overnight? Certainly not. Will it accelerate our success? I clearly believe it will,” he said. “They’ve got a great team of people, with interested leadership, and I’m happy to have their focused involvement.”
Executive Director Emeritus Richard Altman points to three Farm to Fly projects in Vermont and South Carolina that CAAFI is currently collaborating on with USDA and the Department of Transportation, which have received funding through the USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) scheme.
The Vermont fuel conversion project at a dairy farm site is using cow manure and beer brewery waste to create a high sugar content waste stream. The USDA grant helped to project yields and energy balance comparable to other projects that have used direct sugar streams. A feasibility study by GSR Solutions demonstrated positive yields for dairy and beer brewery waste-fed heterotrophic and mixotrophic algal biofuel compared to current production baselines, said CAAFI. Plans are now being made to move the project into a pilot phase.
The two other projects, in partnership with the South Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance, have recently received RBEGs to assess the feasibility of woody biomass based biofuels and algae based biofuels. Both projects are centred on South Carolina’s I-95 corridor, a major target for economic development.
The DOE figure quoted in the article of US airlines using 23 billion gallons of jet fuel per year is not strictly accurate, points out CAAFI. This is in fact the total for all US aviation activities, including military, business and general aviation. A more accurate figure for commercial airlines usage is around 18.6 billion gallons per year.