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A Look into the Future of Aviation Biofuels

May 2, 2012
Energy security continues to be an important issue for the United States. Panelists on “The Future of Aviation Biofuels” breakout session at BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing talked about biofuels promise to increase our nation’s energy security and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Representatives from the U.S. Department of the NavyAgrisomaAirlines for America and Honeywell UOP made up the panel.

Moderator Don Schenk of ACA Associates called agriculture the foundation for green aviation and stressed the importance of sustainable, non-food feedstoks as well as utilizing the existing global agricultural research networks. He said North America consumes more than $50 billion worth of fuel per year so demand is not in question – making sure biofuels are cost competitive and can be delivered in a sustainable way is the issue.

Chris Tindal, U.S. Department of Navy, highlighted some of the Navy’s lofty goals involving energy including increasing alternative energy use. By 2020, 50 percent of the Navy's total energy consumption will come from alternative sources. He stressed that oil dependency degrades our national, energy and economic security. Total Navy fuel consumption amounts to 30 million barrels per year compared to 582 million barrels per year used by the U.S. jet fuel consumption on commercial airlines. While that may be a small portion, he said, it is big enough to make a difference and showcases the opportunity and importance of partnerships between the Navy and the commercial sector. Tindal talked about the unique partnership established in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Navy to help establish commercial advanced, drop-in biofuel refineries.

Nancy Young of Airlines for America (A4A) echoed Tindal’s sentiments about the importance of increasing energy security and reducing dependence on oil. She also highlighted the environmental benefits of cleaner energy and said when it comes to biofuels, “for airlines, the future is now.” United Airlines and Alaska Airlines both flew commercial flights powered by biofuels in 2011. She called aviation the perfect candidate for biofuels because of the concentrated demand as fewer airports than gas stations exist across the country; drop-in fuels require no new infrastructure; and unlike other modes of transportation, aviation doesn’t have alternatives beyond liquid fuels. Young said that the airlines are ready for biofuels and they know how to do it, they just need to make it commercially viable and cost-competitive to become reality and believes we are on our way to accomplishing that.