Cantwell, FAA Announce Groundbreaking Hub to Launch New Era in Jet Biofuels Development

Center of Excellence at WSU to lead new public-private partnership to scale up aviation biofuel development

SEATTLE – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the creation of a national Center of Excellence for jet biofuel research, to be headquartered at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

The Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment will be based at WSU with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Washington among 16 university partners. The Center will bring together research universities and industry leaders to focus on developing and testing aviation biofuels. The Center of Excellence will work to develop ‘drop in’ aviation biofuel that meets industry standards and is cost-competitive with current jet fuel.

America’s aviation economy supports 10 million jobs and $1 trillion in economic activity. But America’s leadership in aviation is threatened by the increasing cost and volatility of jet fuel.  Fuel is the top cost to airlines, making up 35 percent of operating costs. Jet fuel costs have risen 267 percent over the last 11 years, causing airlines to shut down routes and increase ticket prices.

“This landmark investment will help the jet biofuels industry take flight,” Cantwell said. “From farms to airports, green jet fuel means jobs for Americans. This investment impacts every sector of the American economy. It secures and grows our aviation competitiveness by controlling the costs of jet fuel, protects our environment by reducing carbon emissions, and keeps our nation safer by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And this investment will support aerospace jobs. More than 10 million Americans work in our aviation economy and this is Center will provide the innovation needed to support jobs and keep America ahead in the global aviation economy.”

Cantwell, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and the entire Washington delegation sent a letter to the FAA in April supporting WSU’s proposal.

Cantwell wrote language to create the new FAA Center of Excellence in the FAA reauthorization bill of 2012.  The announcement marks a major FAA long-term public-private investment in jet biofuel research, with the new Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment funded at $40 million over the next 10 years. It will be matched 1-to-1 with $40 million from industry partners.

The coalition of 16 universities and 26 industry and federal partners and stakeholders includes numerous members in Washington state:  the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, the Port of Seattle, Spokane International Airport, Imperium Renewables and InnovaTek.

“As the longtime home of our nation’s aerospace industry, Washington state has always been on the cutting edge of new technology that makes American planes better, safer, and more efficient, and I’m thrilled Washington State University will continue that proud tradition as home for the new Air Transportation Center of Excellence for alternate jet fuels and the environment,” said Senator Patty Murray.  “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.”

As the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, Senator Murray has fought to include funding for the Air Transportation Center of Excellence in the Senate spending bill two years in row.  Throughout the selection process, Senator Murray spoke directly with FAA Administrator Huerta several times to advocate on behalf of WSU’s application.

For more than a decade, WSU has provided technical leadership to the Pacific Northwest region and to the nation in alternative fuels for aircraft. The WSU team will focus on feedstock development, sustainable forest production and establishing new methods to identify the most promising plant lines for biofuel conversion.

Washington state is already the aerospace capital of the world,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, the top Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee. “This national center of excellence will put people to work making our state the base for innovation that will reshape aviation in the 21st century. The center will combine our state’s unmatched strength in aviation engineering with our unrivaled commitment to protecting the environment.”

The top 40 airports around the country use approximately 90 percent of America’s jet fuel. The Center will coordinate a regional approach to meet the needs of different hubs across the country. WSU and the other universities chosen as partners have expertise and experience with woody biomass feedstocks of native trees to their respective regions.

“We thank Senator Maria Cantwell for her leadership in making the FAA Center of Excellence a reality. 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,” said Mike Bair, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “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.”

"Airlines for America is a strong proponent of increasing our nation's energy security and developing sustainable alternative aviation fuels," said Nicholas E. Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America. "We applaud the efforts of Sen. Cantwell, who is a longtime advocate for jet biofuels and their potential for the aviation sector."

"We are thrilled to learn the FAA has selected Washington State University to lead the Center of Excellence, and we thank Senator Cantwell for her leadership in making this possible.  With this investment, our region will continue to play a critical role in advancing the development of aviation biofuels," said Keith Loveless, Alaska Air Group's executive vice president and general counsel and executive sponsor of Alaska's sustainability program. “Using sustainable aviation fuels reflects our commitment to be the industry leader in environmental stewardship.”

“Washington state is poised to lead the nation is tackling this critical scientific challenge,” Cantwell continued. “Biofuel research brings together Washington state’s leaders in aviation, innovation and agriculture. This Center will propel Washington state’s innovation economy to the forefront of the emerging biofuels industry.”

WSU President Elson S. Floyd said that “competing for and winning the Center of Excellence designation reaffirms the State of Washington and Washington State University as international leaders in aviation and the development of alternative jet fuels. We, along with our university and industry partners, stand ready to deliver the new science, advanced technology and educated workforce the industry will need to be globally competitive. I especially want to thank Sens. Cantwell and Murray, and our entire Congressional delegation for their support of our proposal for the center designation.”

“The airlines are looking for ways to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint, and this center of excellence will play a big role in doing just that,” said John Holladay, manager of the Biomass Sector at PNNL.

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 a $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.
  • 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.

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.