CAAFI and its 10-year journey to the cutting edge of sustainable jet fuel commercialisation
Thu 26 May 2016 – On March 11 this year, the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) celebrated with United Airlines, AltAir Fuels, Honeywell/UOP and World Fuel Services as they introduced drop-in, sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF) into regular commercial flights out of LAX. That is just the first of what we project to be several commercialisation efforts over the next several years, writes Steve Csonka, Executive Director of CAAFI (right). The industry’s ultimate goal is to see SAJF become a primary means for capping, and eventually lowering, the total net greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, even as the industry continues to grow and fulfil worldwide demand for safe, high-speed, highly-efficient transport of people and goods to all corners of the globe.
Why is this industry effort different from others? The global jet-powered aviation enterprise – commercial, business and military users – is united in its interest in alternative fuels. Why else are we different? While most other industries have viable options for switching energy sources, or for introducing other methods to produce power, aviation depends on liquid fuels as the only technically feasible option for several decades to come. But the good news is that SAJF works well and provides many options for fuel production world-wide from a broad range of sustainable sources.
CAAFI’s four sponsoring organisations – the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Airlines for America (A4A), Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA) and Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) – came together in 2006 to establish the CAAFI coalition, which today represents more than 800 members and 450 organisations. Together, these stakeholders from government agencies, airports, fuel producers, airlines, NGOs, aerospace companies and others are leading the development and deployment of alternative jet fuels produced from renewable or recycled sources for commercial aviation and its partners.
These fuels can be produced from oilseeds, sugars, plant matter, municipal solid waste, industrial off-gases and biogas, to name but a few. AltAir Fuels in California is producing high quality sustainable jet fuel for commercial aviation in 30% blends, as well as renewable diesel for the Navy in 10% blends. This renewable fuel is produced from food processing waste streams.
Multiple studies have shown that SAJF can reduce net lifecycle carbon emissions and local air quality pollutants around airports. In some cases, 60-80% net carbon reductions are possible. In others, for example where biochar is a co-product of the SAJF production, use of that carbon as a soil amendment can actually result in carbon-negative fuels; that is, more carbon is put back into the ground than is generated by the lifecycle of the fuel’s creation and use. The aviation industry is keenly interested in these benefits and the fact that these fuels can also improve energy security, minimise price volatility and provide additional societal benefits, including economic and rural development and secondary environmental services.
We’ve come a long way since our establishment and are proud to reflect on the significant accomplishments of the industry over the past 10 years, which include:
Collaboration with FAA, ASTM and aircraft manufacturers to validate and establish the drop-in jet fuel concept, followed by five alternative jet fuel approvals.
Created and released the ASTM D4054 Users’ Guide, to assist entrepreneurial firms with navigating the fuel qualification process.
Crafted the Fuel Readiness Level evaluation framework and receipt of endorsement for the use of this evaluation methodology as a best practice by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Formed a strategic alliance between airlines (via A4A) and the Defense Logistics Agency, signalling a ‘single market’ for alternative jet fuel.
Facilitated the signing of the ‘Farm to Fly 2.0’ agreement between USDA, DOE and CAAFI sponsors to accelerate the development of feedstocks, execute various feasibility assessments and foster regional development activities in several states.
Facilitated airline/fuel producer offtake agreements in cooperation with A4A. There are currently seven publicly communicated agreements to date.
Expanded cooperation with international counterparts in Australia, Brazil, Spain, Germany and Indonesia.
Over the next 10 years we envision the following:
Enable industry production of SAJF volumes that help aviation achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onward.
Enhance the efforts being undertaken in the National Jet Fuel Combustion programme, a U.S. multi-agency and industry effort to improve the understanding of the impact of variation in fuel composition on combustion. The results of this multi-million dollar research work will assist the industry in significantly lowering the cost and time associated with ASTM International qualification of new fuel pathways, help the industry to move in the direction of more compositionally-based fuel specifications and enable the use of fully synthetic fuels that can completely replace the use of petroleum fuels and further reduce net carbon emissions.
Offer assistance to the commercialisation of multiple fuel production facilities associated with all existing and future ASTM approved pathways, to produce sustainable jet fuel from every form of affordable, sustainable feedstock possible.
Maximise the impact of U.S. government agencies with support for the implementation of a national alternative jet fuel R&D strategy.
Continue collaborating with non-U.S. entities to fully exploit the value of research, development, demonstration and deployment efforts wherever they may occur, and enable the acceleration of SAJF solutions worldwide.
Continue to foster business development efforts leading to pilot, demonstration and full scale production opportunities, leveraging support from other interests.
Take advantage of the tremendous gains taking place in genetic mapping and evaluation to leverage the development of lower cost and higher production purpose-grown feedstocks for SAJF.
Pursue advanced fuel production concepts like electro-fuels, solar fuels and tailored microbial conversion of low-cost feedstocks that are still in their infancy but represent great opportunities.
CAAFI will be providing further updates on our progress and other related efforts from across the industry as we lead up to our 10-year anniversary celebration and review at the CAAFI Biennial General Meeting in October 2016.