Air carriers, farmers, fuel refiners and government leaders met in Columbus, Ohio, recently to explore the future of aviation fuels made from farm-grown energy crops. Hosted by USDA’s Ohio Rural Development office and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, representatives of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and the Air Transport Association briefed Ohio stakeholder groups and state and federal officials on efforts underway in the airline industry to create a clean, reliable and cost-competitive supply of renewable jet biofuels to bring stability to petroleum-based aviation fuel market.
“This is a landmark opportunity for the evolution of the country’s energy policies and our success will depend on us embracing a truly cooperative effort,” said Rich Altman, executive director with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative. “We have to develop a new fuel dynamic that incorporates long-term economic solutions to the nation’s growing energy needs.”
Representatives of farm groups including the Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farmer’s Union explored a future where energy crops like, switch grass, miscanthus and even algae will be raised as feedstocks for bio-refined jet fuels as well as ‘drop-in” motor fuels.
“Farmers are eager to work cooperatively towards the development of alternative aviation fuel products as a way to help reduce the nation’s petroleum dependency,” said Ohio Farm Bureau’s Director of Energy Services Dale Arnold. Arnold pointed out that other energy related industries are also competing for support from the farming community. “There are also geographic, climate and infrastructure concerns that need to be addressed in a comprehensive approach to help craft practical local policies that support continued development of aviation fuel initiatives.”
Ohio is definitely on the radar screen as a major player in this new industry. The state is host to research facilities at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and a top-flight network of University researchers. Our Third Frontier Program for commercializing promising research also provides an incentive for biofuel refiners.
USDA’s Ohio Rural Development office views innovations in aviation biofuels as a driver for small town economic development. “If we can grow an industry around renewable fuels, small town residents will be the beneficiaries,” said J. Anthony Logan, Ohio Rural Development state director. “Farmers can grow energy crops on marginal lands for a new income stream, and thousands of jobs will be created in the transportation, processing and refining sectors.”
Chris Cassidy, USDA, completed the presentation portion of the forum with discussions of USDA funding programs that can be used to help stimulate development of alternative aviation fuel projects. Cassidy explained that USDA has numerous funding programs and each is governed by its own administrative guidelines. “The key here is that we must work cooperatively to fit the project idea to the right USDA funding program to help achieve a project’s success,” said Cassidy.