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The future of biofuels

February 27, 2012, 10:27 am

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, jatropha-based fuels are the front-runner for the most sustainable aviation fuels that have been developed to replace conventional jet fuel. Able to compete in price with traditional fuel, jatropha-based fuel could be available to airlines at $0.86/liter by 2018.

The biofuel, composed of pyrolysis of woody biomass, is the most affordable biofuel option for aviation to date. Other biofuel options, such as products made from wood gasification and algae farms, are not likely to be commercial until well into the 2020s, and the end result will not be as price-competitive as jatropha-based fuels, Biofuels Digest reported.

The development of biofuels is being encouraged by governments all over the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released its "Farm to Fly" report, setting an FAA target of 1 billion gallons per year of aviation biofuel capacity by 2018. This goal is achievable if progress in biofuel production and distribution is supported through the supply chain, the source reported.

Airlines for America and Boeing called for public sector support across the supply chain and two commercial scale projects to incite private investment in biofuel development and distribution. The "Farm to Fly" report said technology costs and other financial barriers must first be overcome before biofuel can impact the aviation industry, the source reported.

"Currently there are more than 20 second- and third-generation biofuel development projects occurring throughout the United States," the report said. "These projects utilize a variety of feedstock and process technologies to produce renewable fuels, and several have the potential to produce aviation biofuel."

The USDA said the "Farm to Fly" report does not address the near-term availability of jet fuels made from upgrading alcohols. Airlines are expected to have to compete with road transport for biofuels once they reach the market, and it will be difficult for the aviation industry to compete with road transport. Until additional funding is available to make planes more efficient, new aviation biofuels must be in development.

Another upgrade to the aviation industry is the expected deployment of a next-generation air transportation system in the public and private sectors. To keep aviation professionals informed of the changes and advancements regarding aviation technology, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Aerospace Industries Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Innovative Solutions International will host a webinar. The digital event will discuss the high potential for an upgraded air traffic control system, as well as next-generation technology throughout the industry.

Pilots should also stay informed with the latest news and options regarding pilot insurance available to them.

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