FAA creates center of excellence for biobased jet fuel

By Erin Voegele | September 16, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration has announced the formation of a new center of excellence (COE) for alternative jet fuels and the environment. The COE, which includes 16 university partners and more than 50 industry and national laboratory partners, will be headquartered in Richland, Wash., at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

According to the FAA, the COE will explore ways to meet the environmental and energy goals that are part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The system is a national airspace system plan that is being implemented in phases through 2025. It includes provisions related to renewable jet fuel development and use. 

The new COE will be led by WSU and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Additional core team partners include Boston University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of Dayton, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Tennessee.

“This innovative partnership supports President Obama’s national plan to address climate change,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “The Center of Excellence will tap talented universities to help us take environmentally friendly, alternative jet fuel technology to the next level.  Airlines and their customers will both benefit from their work developing cleaner fuel that supports the environment and continued aviation growth.”

According to information released by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the center will focus on developing drop-in biofuels that meet industry standards and are cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels. Cantwell wrote language to create the COE in the FAA reauthorization bill of 2012.

“This landmark investment will help the jet biofuels industry take flight,” Cantwell said. “From farms to airports, green jet fuel means jobs for Americans. This investment impacts every sector of the American economy. It secures and grows our aviation competitiveness by controlling the costs of jet fuel, protects our environment by reducing carbon emissions, and keeps our nation safer by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And this investment will support aerospace jobs. More than 10 million Americans work in our aviation economy and this is center will provide the innovation needed to support jobs and keep America ahead in the global aviation economy.”

A statement released by WSU specifies that Ralph Cavalieri, associate vice president for alternative energy at university, will serve as director of the COE. "Leveraging the knowledge, expertise and research capabilities of some of the best scientists in the country will speed our progress toward solutions for both the economic and environmental challenges the national aviation industry faces,” Cavalieri said.

Joe Hansman of MIT will serve as co-director. "The importance of minimizing the environmental impact of aviation will continue to grow,” he added. "We have assembled a broad and talented team which will explore multiple approaches to a cleaner and more efficient air transportation system.”

The FAA’s COE programs are cost-sharing research partnerships between academia, industry and the federal government. The FAA is expected to provide the new COE with a total of $40 million in funding at a rate of $4 million per year over the next decade.

Additional information on the COE is available on the WSU website.