Cantwell announces new biofuels center at WSU Tri-Cities

By:  Tri-City Herald – Annette Cary
Source: Tri-City Herald

Washington State University Tri-Cities will play a lead role in the development of biofuels for the nation’s aviation industry, after WSU and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were named Friday to lead a new Center for Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” said Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council, after Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., announced the win for WSU at its Richland campus.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to spend at least $40 million on jet biofuel research during the next decade, with matching money coming from public and private partnerships.

But it also should raise the national profile of the already respected biofuel research being done at the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, or BSEL, on the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

The lab is a partnership between WSU and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Being a key part of an FAA research partnership also should attract research projects from other federal agencies and industry product testing to BSEL, Adrian said. It also may prompt industries to consider locating manufacturing capabilities nearby in the Tri-City area, he said.

WSU will take the lead for the new center for jet fuel development and creating a supply and refining infrastructure, with headquarters for the project on its Richland campus at the BSEL lab. MIT will concentrate on implementation issues such as aircraft technology assessment.

The goal is to develop an aviation biofuel that can be made commercially available at competitive prices.

“(It’s) all about finding the perfect molecule to make a homegrown jet fuel for the aviation industry in the United States,” Cantwell said. She wrote language to create the new FAA Center of Excellence in the FAA reauthorization bill of 2012.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., fought to include funding for the center in the Senate spending bill for two years in a row as the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee.

“Developing new alternative jet fuels is crucial for the airline industry, our military and our environment, and the FAA made the right decision to base this important research where it belongs, in Washington state,” she said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also supports the project, agreeing shortly after he took office last year to ask the Legislature for $500,000 to support the center in the upcoming session, according to WSU.

“This is a step towards seizing the opportunity to create jobs in Washington by growing, processing, refining and deploying advanced biofuels at commercial scale,” he said in a statement Friday.

As FAA was considering proposals for the center, all members of the Washington congressional delegation signed a letter to the FAA backing WSU’s proposal.

Picking the WSU proposal confirms of the important relationship between WSU and the private sector to create new jobs in the Tri-Cities, while providing new opportunities for area farmers, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said in a statement Friday.

The WSU proposal includes the University of Washington and 15 other university partners, and 26 industry, federal and other partners, including PNNL, Alaska Airlines and Boeing.

PNNL will help develop and test fuels, bring its state-of-the-art scientific instruments to projects and continue to work with its partners in Washington industry, said Jud Virden, associate lab director for the PNNL Energy and Environment Directorate.

More than 90 researchers now are doing work at BSEL, he said.

FAA has set a goal to improve National Airspace System energy efficiency by at least 2 percent a year, and has set a target of 1 billion gallons of alternate jet fuel in use by 2018, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

Developing and putting into commercial use an aviation biofuel would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality, said David Suomi, deputy regional administrator for the Northwest Mountain Region of the FAA, at BSEL Friday.

The new center “will focus on this planet’s sustainability,” he said. “It doesn’t get more important than that.”

The right biofuel also would help stabilize the cost of jet fuel, Cantwell said.

Fuel makes up 35 percent of operating costs of airlines, and jet fuel costs have increased 267 percent during the past 11 years, causing airlines to shut down routes and increase ticket prices, according to Cantwell’s staff.

“The goal is to have an aviation sector succeed in the future and endure in an environmentally sustainable fashion,” said Ralph Cavalieri, WSU associate vice president for alternative energy.

He has been named the director and technical leader for alternative jet fuels for the FAA Center of Excellence at WSU.