Group Offers Aviation Biofuels Timetable (Best Guess)

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With at least four biofuel test flights flown by leading airlines over the past 12 months, reports say they perform as well or better than traditional jet fuel and that some of the next generation fuels could cut emissions by 84 percent, so what's the hold up? Some hope to see commercial-scale production within the next few years, but the problem is economics. In the short term, serious hurdles exist, including the price and availability of second-generation feedstocks (there may not be enough raw material to supply the entire aviation industry) like camelina, which are used to produce the fuels. Camelina's oil in particular has been championed by Boeing as a drop-in jet fuel replacement, capable of utilizing existing jet fuel infrastructure without the need for component modifications. Still, those growing pains aren't likely to overcome any economy-induced short-term shortfalls in government support for mid- and long-term value. A report by Pike Research cited last week by the Wall Street Journal forecasts that the combined biodiesel and ethanol markets could climb from about $76 billion in sales in 2010 to nearly $250 billion by 2020. The market research and consulting firm has mapped the key milestones it expects to drive aviation biofuel progress over the next few years, but industry groups may have more conservative goals.

According to Pike Research, the first fuels on the market in 2010 will be based on waste greases. In 2014, biofuels based on plants like camelina will start to have an impact on the market. Following that, in 2016, algae-based fuels introduced commercially in 2012 will gain stronger footing, according to Pike. While there is broad agreement that commercial-scale production of biofuels could by 2013 have a substantial impact on the aviation industry, the International Air Transport Association has set a target of employing alternative fuels as 10 percent of the aviation fuel supply by 2017.