FAA Funds Biofuel Push

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The FAA will award $7.7 million to eight companies developing alternative fuels (biofuel), the agency announced Thursday, seeking a test product by next year. The companies will receive guidance from the FAA to develop an approved drop-in jet fuel alternative derived from sustainable sources for use in current systems and current infrastructure. Source matter will include alcohols, biomass, sugars and organic oils. The contracts themselves direct the companies to research quality control and long-term mechanical effects of burning biofuels in jet engines. Biofuel has already helped drive airliners and passengers across the United States as part of traditional/biofuel blends. Feasibility is one thing. Affordability and profitability wield their influence in the far more important arena of practical application, where real challenges remain.

Some biofuels may be chemically identical to Jet A but presently cost more than five times as much per volume -- as does a cooking oil derived product produced by Dynamic Fuels of Louisiana selected by Alaska Airlines for flight tests. That company did not make the FAA's short list of cash recipients. Honeywell UOP, Honeywell Aerospace, LanzaTech, Virent Energy Systems, Velocys, Metron Aviation, Futrepast and Life Cycle Associates will all receive FAA funds. Their contracts range from $25,000 to $3 million. Honeywell UOP ($1.1 million) is specifically tasked with delivery of 100 gallons of isobutanol-derived fuel before 2013. The airline industry literally burns billions of gallons of fuel each year. And the new fuels industry is developing sustainable biofuel feedstock in multiple corners of the country. Production volume and cost will be deciding factors in the end and, for now, the FAA's investment isn't the government's only one. The departments of Agriculture and Energy and the Navy will invest up to $510 million over three years pursuing alternative fuels for use in military vehicles. Part of that effort aims to promote fuel security and independence. For the airlines, more predictable pricing and an effort to avoid carbon taxes expected to play in the European Union are also driving factors.