US government releases federal alternative jet fuels R&D strategy

By Katie Fletcher | August 01, 2016

On July 28, the White House released the Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy, mapping out a unified federal plan to advance R&D as well as science and technology solutions to support deployment of alternative jet fuels in civil and military aviation.

The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative was a key player in the development of the strategy by participating in the survey and review process and providing input to the strategy during the initial stakeholder discussions held in January 2014. It will continue to play a strong role moving forward serving as a key connection point between federal efforts and non-federal and industry stakeholders.

The FAJFS prioritizes a list of R&D goals and objectives addressing specific scientific, technical, analytical and logistical challenges that hinder the development, production and wide-scale economic deployment of alternative jet fuels (AJFs). Upon the release of the strategy, the federal government hopes to accelerate the development of the AJF industry by minimizing technical uncertainty to encourage further private sector interest, facilitate the development and approval of new AJF pathways and reduce the cost of AJF production in the U.S.

In late 2013, an Alternative Jet Fuel Interagency Working Group (AJF-IWG) was established under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Aeronautics Science and Technology to develop the strategy with other key stakeholders.

Going forward, AJF-IWG will lead implementation of the strategy, analyze ongoing federal efforts and collaborate with federal and non-federal stakeholders, including the CAAFI, in advancing four areas of the strategy, namely: feedstock development, production and logistics; fuel conversion and scale-up; fuel testing and evaluation; and integrated challenges such as sustainability. Goals and objectives were set in each of the four areas to be completed over near-term (less than 5 years), mid-term (5 to 10 years) and long-term (more than 10 years) time horizons.

Agencies that have an R&D mission that aligns with a certain goal were identified in the FAJFS, and, in most cases, the goals and objectives are shared by multiple agencies, including R&D coordination efforts by the Biomass R&D Board, CAAFI, Farm to Fly 2.0 and more.

In the category of feedstock development, production and logistics, R&D goals and objectives represent what individual regional supply chains could do to optimize their systems to reduce cost, technology uncertainty and risk, while increasing crop yields and improving harvesting, collection, storage, densification, pretreatment and transportation of biomass to the conversion facility. According to the report, a regional focus may help identify specific production opportunities and define cost competitiveness. Some considerations to keep in mind to develop a feedstock supply system are fuel use locations, regions likely to benefit most from AJF, regionally appropriate feedstocks, existent/emerging conversion platforms, industry/community interest and alternative uses/products potentially supported by the feedstock supply chain.

The area of fuel conversion and scale-up focuses on reducing the cost of production for biochemical, thermochemical and hybrid conversion processes while increasing the conversion efficiency and volume of fuels produced. The report stated that conversion technologies that are relatively mature include 1) hydro treatment and upgrading of waste oils or plant-based oils to jet fuel and 2) gasification of biomass or MSW into a synthesis gas followed by Fischer-Tropsch conversion of the synthesis gas into jet fuel. However, R&D is needed for even these relatively mature technologies. According to the FAJFS, hydro-treatment of oils is dominated by the cost of the feedstock, which can account for 75 to 80 percent of the cost of the finished fuel; thus R&D could focus on new feedstocks that can be available at low costs to make the finished fuel cost competitive.

One promising pathway included in the strategy is the production of a bio-crude from biomass or non-fossil feedstocks and coprocessing the bio-crude and fossil-based crude oil in existing refineries. The refinery would continue to produce a mix of products like jet fuel, diesel, gasoline and petrochemicals. Conversion technologies to target in the mid-term include ATJ, additional biochemical/catalytic conversion of sugars to hydrocarbons and pyrolysis. Long-term, conversion technologies identified include waste carbon dioxide into ethanol followed by ATJ conversion, processes involving algal and other microbial feedstocks and algae or other microbes capable of producing hydrocarbons.

Evaluating and testing the fuel is said to focus on facilitating the approval of additional AJF pathways through advancement of certification and qualification process, and collection and analysis of data, including those for combustion emissions.

The fourth category of integrated challenges has the goals of improving environmental sustainability, validating a comprehensive systems model and promoting communication and best practices for AJF development.

CAAFI will host several sessions on the FAJFS at the CAAFI biennial general meeting including discussions of execution strategy led by the federal agencies, the integration of ongoing and planned activities across the public-private-partnership spectrum to meet the strategy’s objectives, and the providing of feedback on other objectives and activities that could be undertaken to fulfill the vision of the strategy.

A table of the specific objectives under each goal can be downloaded here.