Congress Weighs In On Aviation Biofuels
With certification and commercial flights taking off, the aviation biofuels party is underway. FAA drafts aspirational target as U.S. Congress refuses to pay cover.
With recent ASTM certification for the use of Bio-SPK in commercial aircraft cleared, efforts to scale-up aviation biofuels are gathering momentum. Leading feedstock contenders like Jatropha, Camelina, and algae have all been in the news and commercial flights have commenced in Latin America and Europe.
Meanwhile, a battle is brewing over the EU’s plan to tax aviation emissions for flights touching down in EU territory. The so-called Aviation Amendments to the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) has ruffled feathers in India, China, and most notably, the United States. The U.S., IATA, ATA, and the EU are currently battling it out in court. IATA and ATA view the ETS as a violation of the Chicago Convention governing international air travel and have called for a global approach to aircraft emissions reduction. U.S. and ATA attorneys argue that the scheme breaches U.S. sovereignty, and is in violation of a bilateral Air Transport Agreement reached between the United States and the EU in April 2007 as well as the Kyoto Protocol.
Most recently, the U.S. Congress has thrown its hat into the ring. In late July, top officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), State Department, and Transportation Department testifying before the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee joined Republican and Democratic members in criticizing the EU’s plan. The Obama administration officials would not endorse H.R. 2594, a bill introduced on July 20 by House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and several Democrats that would exempt U.S. airlines from the proposed EU scheme.
Despite opposition to the EU plan, the U.S. government strongly supports the development of aviation biofuels. On July 28, the FAA announced it will set an “aspirational” target in a yet-to-be-published strategic plan, Destination 2025, for the U.S. aviation industry to use 1 billion gallons of alternative jet fuel per year by 2018. The plan also sets a goal of developing an alternative replacement fuel for leaded aviation gasoline “that is usable by most general aviation aircraft” by 2018. In testimony before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, an FAA official indicated that the agency has been working with industry to address barriers to the use of “drop-in” jet fuels. The airline industry, which expects to spend $53 billion on fuel in 2011 ($39 billion more than the previous year) supports alternative fuel efforts.
Even with the recent excitement around aviation biofuels, there are many issues still to be worked out and scale-up efforts will likely slog forward over the next 5-10 years.