When the American airline industry began a short stint of demo flights with biofuels in early November, Alaska Air Group head man Bill Ayer had a simple statement regarding the future of such efforts: “Commercial airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels. To the biofuels industry, we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”
Now, to help move green aviation along, the Obama Administration is awarding $7.7 million in Federal Aviation Administration contracts to eight biofuel-related companies. The eight companies selected “will help the FAA develop and approve alternative, sustainably-sourced ‘drop-in ‘jet fuels that can be used without changing aircraft engine systems or airport fueling infrastructure,” the agency said.
The most pressing task is to produce those fuels in much larger quantities and at much lower cost than is the case now. In its demo flights, Alaska used a biofuel component made by Dynamic Fuels, a Louisiana-based partnership between the synthetic fuel manufacturer Syntroleum and the meat production giant Tyson Foods. The green fuel cost Alaska six times what conventional fuels cost.
“These new green aviation fuels will use energy sources right here at home,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the contracts. “This type of innovation will create good-paying jobs in the airline and energy industries and help protect the environment at the same time.”
A big chunk of the FAA money– $3 million – will go to one company, LanzaTech [PDF]. Based in New Zealand, it has operation in Roselle, Ill. There, the company said, it produces “sustainable alcohols and chemicals from waste gas resources that are completely outside the food value chain. These alcohols are then converted, using technology from LanzaTech’s partner Swedish Biofuels, to jet fuel that is fully equivalent to petroleum jet fuel, or that can be blended with petroleum.”