FAA chooses Washington for aviation biofuels development

By:  Puget Sound Business Journal – Steve Wilhelm
Source: Puget Sound Business Journal

Aviation biofuels became more important for Washington state Friday, after the Federal Aviation Administration announced creation of a national research center in Richland, Wash.

The Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment will be based atWashington State University in Richland, and will include the University of Washington among its 16 university partners.

The FAA announcement deepens the state’s involvement in aviation biofuels development, which was formalized by the 2010 formation of Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, a collaboration between Boeing, airport operators, environmental groups and WSU aimed at developing aviation fuels in Washington.

That initiative cited Washington as a perfect place for aviation biofuels research, due to the the state’s aerospace strengths, environmental leadership, research capabilities, and the large agricultural industry capable of growing plants for biofuels.

The new Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment, a coalition of 16 universities and 26 industry and federal partners, includes several Washington members: University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, the Port of Seattle, Spokane International Airport, Imperium Renewables and InnovaTek.

The center is to receive $80 million in funding over the next decade, half from the FAA and half from industry partners.

The FAA designation has been pursued by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “This landmark investment will help the jet biofuels industry take flight,” she said in a statement. “This investment will support aerospace jobs.”

Biofuels have been focused on more by aircraft makers than by manufacturers of land vehicles or ships because of the critical issue of weight. Although some electric aircraft have flown, burning fuel in jet engines remains the best way to power commercial aircraft. The industry is anxious to shield itself from future environmental restrictions on the use of fossil fuels, or the eventual day when supplies will diminish.

“It’s terrific win for Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest, and it further validates our region as the leader in the development of sustainable aviation biofuel,” saidMike Bair, vice president of marketing and business development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes division of Boeing Co., in a statement. “State-of-the-art research conducted by the Center of Excellence will advance the commercialization of aviation biofuel. This fuel will play a crucial role in supporting our industry’s long-term growth while reducing its carbon emissions.”

Both Boeing and Alaska Airlines have been experimenting with biofuels, and in 2011 Alaska Airlines used a 20 percent mix of aviation biofuels for 75 flights.

This decision was supported by a July 1, 2011 ruling by ATSM International, a Pennsylvania-based standards organization, that biofuels can be used in commercial jet operations.