US government lays out R&D strategy to address key challenges hindering development of alternative jet fuels
Fri 29 July 2016 – The White House has released a US federal strategy setting out prioritised research and development (R&D) goals and objectives to address key scientific and technical challenges that are holding back the development, production and use of economically viable alternative jet fuels (AJFs) at commercial scale. With input from a range of federal and non-federal stakeholders, the strategy has been put together by an interagency working group made up of expert representatives from across government. Despite significant progress by commercial and military aviation over the past decade to develop, evaluate and deploy AJFs, there are not as yet sufficient volumes that can compete on price with petroleum fuel to meet the needs of the aviation industry, say research officials. Cooperation between the federal government and the private sector, including industry, NGOs and academia, as well as international coordination, will be crucial to addressing the challenges, says the strategy report.
The blueprint is the product of work by the Alternative Jet Fuel Interagency Working Group (AJF-IWG) that was established in late 2013 under the White House Office of Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Aeronautics Science and Technology. Made up of representatives from nine federal agencies, the AJF-IWG will lead the implementation of the efforts identified in the strategy, analyse ongoing federal efforts and collaborate with federal and non-federal stakeholders, including the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). CAAFI participated in the survey and review process and provided input to the strategy during the initial stakeholder discussions held in January 2014, and says it will continue to play a strong role in targeting solutions to the existing challenges.
The strategy identifies four thematic areas: feedstock development, production and logistics; fuel conversion and scale-up; fuel testing and evaluation; and integrated challenges such as sustainability. Each set of goals and objectives have been projected to be completed over near-term (<5 years), mid-term (5-10 years) and long-term (>10 years) time periods.
The strategy report acknowledges the commercial-scale deployment of AJFs also faces challenges that are not specifically scientific or technical in nature. They include price volatility of conventional fuels; production infrastructure barriers; legislative, regulatory and policy barriers; complicated financing structures; investment uncertainty; and labour force and skill constraints. These can limit the benefits of scientific and technical R&D advances but by recognising the broader context for this emerging industry and the roles of non-technical research, for example socio-economic analyses, their impact can be maximised. “Scientific and technical R&D can inform policy decisions and can help reduce technical risks and potentially mitigate economic and financial risks,” says the report.
International coordination should continue to be facilitated by federal agencies, it recommends. Primary areas include scientific and technical R&D conducted under multi-lateral and bilateral agreement to mutually share risks, minimise duplication of effort and benefit from best practices; harmonisation of efforts to define sustainability criteria to ensure biofuels achieve desired GHG reduction goals and do not negatively affect food security and biodiversity; and policy and market development efforts to ensure a global market for AJFs.
Welcoming the strategy, CAAFI said: “It will accelerate the deployment of AJFs in civil and military aviation. Our leadership and work teams will serve as a key connection point between federal efforts and non-federal and industry stakeholders. We look forward to working with the organisations in the AJF-IWG to aid in its implementation.”
CAAFI will host several sessions on the strategy at its forthcoming biennial General Meeting in October. They will include discussions on the execution of the strategy led by the federal agencies; the integration of ongoing and planned activities across the public-private partnership spectrum to meet the strategy’s objectives; and the providing of feedback on adjacent objectives and activities that could be undertaken to fulfil the strategy’s vision.