Charting A Path for Sustainable Jet Fuels

Aviation is essential to keep our world running. It allows us to ship goods and travel far and wide for business and pleasure. Military aviation also keeps our nation safe from foreign threats. But modern jets are mostly powered by petroleum-based fuel, which contribute to carbon pollution — a major driver of climate change. This is a big problem but we’re working on it. Renewable biofuel alternatives made from waste fats, oils, and greases, agricultural residues, municipal solid waste, energy crops or forestry residue can help replace conventional petroleum-based jet fuel. Even better, they can do so without the need to modify aircraft engines and fuel distribution infrastructure. However, we are still meeting the challenge of making these fuels affordable enough for the entire commercial airline industry.

A new report by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council called the Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy outlines the federal government’s plans to lower the cost of alternative jet fuels through coordinated, targeted research and development by agencies including the Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These efforts focus on feedstocks (the biomass used to make the fuel), conversion technologies and scale-up (which enables the fuel to be created and produced commercially), fuel testing and evaluation and overcoming other technical challenges.

The goals align closely with our current work at the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, which supports research and development of new technologies and processes that lower the cost of next-generation sustainable biofuels, including jet fuel. In feedstocks, our partners develop equipment, such as this self-loading trailer, that cut the time it takes to harvest crops and transport them to the biorefinery. Researchers are finding newer and better ways to produce biofuel, such as this National Renewable Energy Laboratory algae-to-ethanol process, which streamlines production and lowers costs. We’re also working to scale up biofuel production technologies, moving them from pilot, demonstration, and commercial stages all while making them better for the environment. In addition, we’re collaborating with industry through an Alternative Aviation Fuel Workshop next month, which focuses on overcoming hurdles to making aviation biofuels more cost competitive than ever.

Alternative jet fuels are key to carbon-neutral aviation. The Energy Department is excited to be a part of important federal R&D efforts to move aviation biofuels forward for national security, the economy and the planet.

This article was originally published by the U.S. Department of Energy in the public domain.

Lead image credit: Michael Miley via Creative Commons | Flickr

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Zia Haq is Senior Analyst and Defense Production Act Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office.

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