Cantwell Highlights Benefits of New Jet Biofuel Program for Eastern Washington Farms

Program encourages Eastern Washington farmers to participate in Washington state’s first commercial-scale camelina growth for next generation biofuels

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) visited Spokane to highlight a program that encourages farmers to plant jet biofuel crops on up to 11,000 acres of their own land. The support is available through Washington state’s first large-scale program for the growth of camelina sativa, a promising non-food feedstock for aviation biofuels.

Washington farmers can sign up to partner with Seattle’s AltAir in growing camelina on up to 11,000 acres in Eastern Washington, as part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Beaver Biodiesel, based in Oregon, can also collaborate with Washington farmers on up to 1,000 acres of their land. This significant step forward will support Washington farming jobs and provide the necessary feedstock to support hundreds of jobs at AltAir’s biofuel refinery in Western Washington, expected to go online in 2014.

Washington State University (WSU) has estimated that eventually 320,000 acres could be used to grow camelina. That could bring 100 million pounds of feedstock to biofuel refineries in Western Washington. Senator Cantwell will be joining camelina grower Steve Camp, WSU professor Scot Hulbert, Sustainable Oils President Scott Johnson, and Bill Warren of Washington state’s Farm Bureau to discuss the program’s benefits.

“The production of green jet fuel will mean real economic and leadership opportunity for Washington state,” said Cantwell. “Farmers right here in Eastern Washington are being given the chance to bolster our rural economy by supporting the future growth of the aviation industry. This program will lay the seeds for a new supply chain to take root, one that has the potential to employ thousands of Washingtonians. By growing and producing our own biofuel, we can start to get our nation off of foreign oil, boost our own local economies, and reduce our carbon footprint.”

The camelina will be used as a feedstock for sustainable, low carbon aviation fuel, and is one of many promising feedstocks for jet biofuel being explored by cutting-edge researchers and business entrepreneurs in Washington state. AltAir is designing and building a network of renewable jet-fuel production facilities.

The BCAP project award provides funding to support the growing of the feedstock for a refining facility that AltAir is planning to build in Western Washington. The refinery is scheduled to open its doors in early 2014. Once the facility is operational, it will have the capacity to produce up to 100 million gallons of renewable jet and diesel fuel per year from camelina, which will replace approximately 2.38 million barrels of oil per year. The crop production operations needed to supply this large-scale commercial biorefinery is expected to create approximately 1,200 full-time equivalent jobs in rural areas throughout the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest, and hundreds of jobs during the design, construction, and operation of the facility.  

In December 2009, AltAir Fuels signed an agreement with 14 commercial airlines for the purchase of up to 750 million gallons of sustainable jet fuel over the next decade. Camelina-derived biofuels have already powered several commercial airline test flights, broken the sound barrier on a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Test Flight, and powered a demonstration flight of the famous F-16 Thunderbirds. To date, more than 500,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel have been produced and tested, making it the most heavily tested renewable fuel feedstock.

Camelina, grown in rotation with dry wheat, doesn’t compete with food or fresh water resources. It will be manufactured into a “drop-in” fuel, a product with a molecular structure identical to that of petroleum jet fuel. Drop-in alternative fuels can use existing refineries and pipelines built for petroleum-based fuels without any adverse impacts. As such, camelina is one of the biofuel sources identified for development for commercial use as part of the Sustainable Aviations Fuel Northwest (SAFN), a regional initiative Cantwell has supported – and urged Obama Administration’s support of its model – since its inception last July. Last December, a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy found that on a full life cycle basis, camelina-based biojet fuel reduces CO2 emissions by 75 percent compared to traditional petroleum-based jet fuel.

Washington state farmers interested in participating in the state’s BCAP project area should consult the USDA Farm Service Agency website. The sign-up period goes from now until September 16, 2011.

Cantwell has long supported the development and commercialization of biofuel to help reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels, better protect the environment, and provide the competition and additional supplies needed to help stabilize and lower jet fuel costs. Planes account for 7.5 percent of our nation’s liquid fuel use and are responsible for around 2 percent of global carbon emissions. In addition, the European Union plans to tax all planes flying in and out of Europe for their carbon emissions starting in 2012. 

On July 28, Cantwell, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation, headed a 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), recently introduced legislation to extend the length of contracts between the Department of Defense and biofuel producers from the current limit of 5 years to 15 years. Representative Inslee (D-WA) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 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. On June 24, 2011, Cantwell reintroduced bipartisan legislation to reform and extend the tax incentive for domestic biodiesel production which includes qualified aviation jet fuel.

Starting in 2004, Cantwell has worked to bring together Washington businesses, farmers, investors, and fuel consumers to help create a Washington biofuels industry. 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. 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.