Obama administration renews aviation biofuels deal

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2013 - The Obama administration plans to continue its partnership efforts to produce aviation fuels from renewable feedstocks - despite criticism from some lawmakers that the fuel is too costly for the U.S. government to purchase in light of other funding priorities.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that USDA will extend for five years its agreement to work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other partners to help develop a viable biofuel for the aviation industry. The Secretary signed the agreement with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the Advanced Biofuels Summit at Gaylord National Harbor in Maryland.


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There will obviously be costs at the outset,” Vilsack acknowledged in a USDA radio interview. “But the enormity of the opportunity of being able to give our commercial aviation industry and our military the capacity to rely on domestically produced fuel that's not subject to the whims of countries that don't necessarily like us and creating jobs….I think, really you need to factor all of that into consideration as you look at the cost benefit analysis of this effort.”

Earlier this year, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa, filed two amendments that would strip biofuel spending from H.R. 933, a military appropriations bill and reassign the funds to support military operation and maintenance expenses of the Defense Department.

“Given tightening budgets, it makes little sense to waste money on inefficient, overpriced energy sources when we could use those same funds to help support critical maintenance services for the warfighter," Toomey noted on March 20.

The new aviation agreement, which includes partners from the commercial aviation sector, follows the initial success of the 2010-2012 "Farm to Fly" initiative. The federal government and its partners hope to support the annual production of 1 billion gallons of drop in aviation biofuel by 2018.

In July 2010, USDA, Airlines for America, Inc. (A4A) and the Boeing Company (Boeing) signed a resolution formalizing their commitment to work together on the "Farm to Fly" initiative. "Farm to Fly" builds upon the work of USDA's Regional Biomass Research Centers, which are helping to develop a robust, advanced biofuels industry by working with industry partners to produce energy-producing feedstocks within different regions.

The renewed agreement focuses on future goals - such as designating personnel, evaluating current and potential feedstock types and systems, developing multiple feedstock supply chains, developing state and local public-private teams, communicating results, and issuing periodic reports.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funding six regional integrated Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAP) targeting enhanced rural prosperity and National energy security through the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of advanced biofuels and biobased products from non-food dedicated biomass feedstocks such as perennial grasses, sorghum, energy cane, oilseed crops, and woody biomass. Three of the projects have a focus on the production of aviation fuel.

·      System for Advanced Hardwood Biofuels in the Pacific Northwest (AHB-PNW) is led by the University of Washington is using purpose-grown hardwoods as the feedstock for the production of gasoline and aviation fuel.

·      Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA): A New Vista for Green Fuels, Chemicals, and Environmentally Preferred Products is led by Washington State University and is working with the regions forest products industry to convert waste from logging and thinning operations into butanol, renewable aviation fuel, and other industrial chemicals.

·      Southeast Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems (IBSS) led by the University of Tennessee is using switchgrass and woody biomass to produce butanol and aviation fuel.

For a copy of the most recent report on the "Farm to Fly" efforts, see Agriculture and Aviation: Partners in Prosperity, Parts I and II at this link: http://www.usda.gov/documents/usda-farm-to-fly-report-jan-2012.pdf


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