Cantwell Calls on FAA to Create New Biofuel Research Hub

Senator tours lab at WSU-Tri Cities, highlights Tri-Cities’ leadership in jet biofuel research and jobs

RICHLAND, WA – During a tour of the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) on the WSU-Tri Cities campus today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create a new aviation biofuel research hub. She also highlighted the Tri-Cities’ leading role in the state’s biofuel industry.

In the recently passed FAA reauthorization bill, Cantwell wrote language that paves the way for the FAA to create a Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet-Fuel Research in Civil Aircraft. This research hub would propel research and development of aviation biofuels and other alternative aviation fuels.

If the FAA Center for Excellence were located in the Pacific Northwest, the Tri-Cities would be in position to play an important role in its activities. The area has the agricultural land to grow biomass and cutting-edge labs like BSEL to research and develop new ways to create biofuels, and attract innovation and investment.

“The cutting-edge research I saw at this lab is exactly why Washington state is uniquely positioned to lead the aviation biofuel industry,” said Cantwell. “I’m calling on the FAA to create an aviation biofuel Center of Excellence, because green jet fuel means more jobs. Now it’s time to jumpstart the research and development of 21stcentury fuel to power airplanes and drive innovation.”

In 2003, the Senate passed Cantwell’s amendment to the ‘Vision 100’ FAA reauthorization bill creating the FAA’s first advanced aviation materials Center of Excellence. She successfully fought to have the new center based at the University of Washington. The Center for Excellence for Advanced Materials for Transportation Aviation Structures (AMTAS) leads the industry’s research of advanced aviation materials, such as composites and aluminum alloys, for use in civilian transport aircraft. Research conducted by AMTAS students and scientists helped prove to the FAA that use of structural composite materials in aircrafts is safe. Boeing incorporated ATMAS’ findings into many of the new 787s’ systems.

The aviation biofuel center’s research would not only boost aviation biofuel but the entire biofuel industry, which could create and support a significant number of jobs. A study by Bio Economic Research Associates found that producing 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels annually by 2022 would create 190,000 direct jobs and just over 800,000 indirect jobs nationwide. Nearly half of the direct jobs are in feedstock production – jobs largely in rural agricultural and forestry communities.

Washington state is home to leaders in the research, development and use of aviation biofuels. Notable successes include:

  • In July 2010, Boeing, Alaska Airlines, the operators of the region’s three largest airports – Port of Seattle, Port of Portland and Spokane International Airport, and Washington State University launched Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest. The coalition is the nation’s first regional stakeholder effort to explore the opportunities of aviation biofuels.
  • In September 2011, a research team led by WSU received $40 million USDA grant to convert closed timber mills into bioenergy development centers. The UW also received a $40 million USDA grant to research the use of sustainably grown woody energy crops to produce bio-gasoline and renewable aviation fuel.
  • Imperium Renewables of Greys Harbor, Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are collaborating on a catalytic process being developed at the lab that converts biomass-based alcohols into renewable drop-in jet fuels.
  • In November 2011, Alaska Air conducted 75 commercial flights over a two-week period in which each plane used a 20 percent mixture of aviation biofuel.

Washington state also contains the growers, research institutions and businesses that make up critical links in the supply chain that grows, develops, refines and uses aviation biofuels.

Airlines are interested in alternative fuels as an option to augment the supply of aviation fuel available and to moderate the volatility of jet fuel prices. According to the trade group Airlines for America, jet fuel prices have risen by 267 percent since 2000.

Cantwell has long supported the development and commercialization of biofuel.

In July 2011, Cantwell chaired a Senate Aviation Subcommittee hearing to examine efforts to develop alternative aviation fuels, the impact of fuel prices on the industry and obstacles that must be overcome to facilitate their commercialization and adoption throughout the industry.

Cantwell, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), introduced legislation in May 2011 to extend the length of contracts between the Department of Defense and biofuel producers from the current limit of 5 years to 15 years. Allowing for longer-term contracts with the largest single consumer of energy in the country would help companies in Washington state to obtain the financing they need to grow their operations.

In June 2011, Cantwell reintroduced bipartisan legislation to reform and extend the tax incentive for domestic biodiesel production which includes qualified aviation jet fuel.

In 2007, she helped author the Renewable Fuels Standard, which, along with increasing vehicle fuel economy standards, are the only two policies proven to reduce our nation’s dangerous overdependence on foreign oil.

In 2005, Cantwell brokered a landmark agreement for the Port of Seattle and its clients to buy one million gallons of biodiesel per year. In addition, Senator Cantwell helped facilitate the construction of one of the biggest biodiesel facilities in the United States in Grays Harbor, as well as secured funding to help Washington state ferries figure out if they could use locally-produced biofuels.