New US administration provides timely and valuable funding for next-generation biofuel research and development
“USDA is committed to research that will support President Obama’s goal of dramatically increasing the production of biofuels in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (photo: USDA)
Wed 4 Feb 2009 – The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has welcomed an announcement by the new US administration that the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) are to release up to $25 million in funding for the research and development of biofuels. The funding is aimed at increasing the availability of alternative renewable fuels and bio-based products, and the US airline industry is hopeful that the development and commercialization of aviation jet biofuels will benefit from the initiative.
“These projects will be among many Obama Administration investments that will help strengthen our economy and address the climate crisis,” stated the new Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. “A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work.”
Award amounts are planned to range from $1 million to up to $5 million, with project periods up to four years, subject to annual appropriations. Eligible applicants include institutions of higher education, national laboratories, federal research agencies, state research agencies, private sector entities, non-profit organizations, or a consortium of two or more of those entities. The closing date for pre-applications is 6 March 2009.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commented: “USDA is committed to research that will support President Obama’s goal of dramatically increasing the production of biofuels in the United States. These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels.”
ATA, a founding and principal member of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), has been active in supporting a call for a stronger federal commitment to the development and commercialization of lower-carbon alternative jet fuels. It sees the announcement as the first step in implementing provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill that provide grants for commercial-scale biofuel demonstration projects, including those it hopes could ultimately produce clean, home-grown, renewable jet fuel. This new programme, it understands, will work in conjunction with other provisions in the Farm Bill that were implemented earlier this year to provide loan guarantees for the construction of commercial-scale alternative fuels production facilities.
“We are hugely supportive of the development of alternative lower-carbon jet fuel for a host of reasons including: supply, stability, security, price, environmental benefits,” an ATA spokesperson told GreenAir Online. “When Congress created this programme in the Farm Bill (under Title IX of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) it urged USDA to take a close look at projects for alternative aviation fuels because Congress acknowledged its potential and the fact that aviation has not benefitted much from federal programmes to date.
“Even as the programme is currently structured, we’re confident the alternative jet fuel industry can compete successfully for this money and we’re pleased they have the opportunity to have a shot at it.”
James C. May, ATA President and CEO, commented: “We are thrilled that the Obama administration has worked quickly to secure this funding for alternative energy. This commitment will move us closer to commercially viable, environmentally friendly alternative jet fuel. ATA and its member airlines look forward to working with the federal government to further promote the rapid development of these exciting new fuel sources.”
Richard Altman, Executive Director of CAAFI, called the announcement “an important milestone”. He said that through the ATA, the airline industry’s interest in biofuel was instrumental in opening up the Farm Bill energy programme to aviation uses last year.
“The CAAFI coalition supported its airline sponsor and is helping to focus specific funding opportunities in support of initiatives such as the one just announced,” he added. “ATA and CAAFI, representing commercial aviation, were the only fuel users among over 30 representatives at a hearing held by USDA last September
to launch this programme.
“Aviation – with its highly focused certification, environmental life cycle and customer/supplier relationships – is in an excellent position among transportation modes to ensure early success for production-based biofuel infrastructure and R&D initiatives such as this one.”
While the announcement was a welcome move for the US biofuels sector, the fledgeling African biofeedstock industry has just received a boost from aid activist and musician Bob Geldorf. He will use a keynote speech at next month’s World Biofuels Market congress in Brussels to support the development of a viable biofuels industry in Africa as part of his commitment to economic independence for the continent.
“Biofuels has received far more than its fair share of negative press and yet there is tremendous potential for a sustainable biofuels industry to help Africa on the road to clean energy independence without impacting upon food production,” said Nadim Chaudhry, Managing Director of the event’s organizer Green Power Conferences.
Jatropha sourced from south-east Africa was used in the recent Air New Zealand and Continental Airlines biofuel flights.