"Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI)"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, DC
December 1, 2011

General Meeting and Expo

Pilots and Farmers


Thank you, Rich (Altman) and Marion (Blakey) for the kind introductions. And good morning to everyone. I am delighted to be here today.

I’ve worked in aviation my whole life and until lately, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about the connection between pilots and farmers – except for air tractors and the crop dusting industry.

But we are reaching a critical time in the development of alternative aviation biofuels – and I’m starting to think I need to add the Department of Agriculture and Secretary Vilsack to my holiday card list.  

Now, pilots and farmers are both “pulling on the yoke” so to speak, to move aviation in a new direction. And that new direction is sustainable jet fuel produced from biomass.

Innovation has always been the hallmark of aviation. Each generation of aviators and engineers has moved the world of flight forward in ways that were not thought possible.

It’s been more than a hundred years since Rudolph Diesel invented the engine that bears his name. And even at the turn of the last century, innovators like Diesel were aware of the potential of alternative fuels. In 1900, at the World’s Fair in Paris, a diesel engine ran on peanut oil.

Since then, natural stores of petroleum-based fuels have become the world’s predominant fuel. And they work very well.   

But our goal now is to think creatively once more and come up with alternative jet fuels that are cleaner and kinder to the environment. These new fuels will not only reduce aviation’s carbon footprint – they will also reduce our dependence on imported oil. They will create a new industry with new jobs and new roles for farmers and refinery workers. We are building a whole new pathway to create and use alternative jet fuels.

The United States has a goal of reducing dependence on imported oil by one-third over the next decade. This is part of the president’s blueprint for a secure energy future. We are looking to develop alternative sources of fuel – including aviation biofuels – to help meet that goal.  

And we’ve already made significant progress in creating, approving and using sustainable alternative fuels.

The work of CAAFI has been indispensible in this effort. CAAFI has formulated a strong coalition and it is thanks to this hard work on the part of many, that we are moving forward.

People are talking about alternative fuels everywhere I go. I was just at the Dubai Air Show and there was a discussion there. And at the Paris Air Show they had a whole display on the various raw materials for alternative fuels. The Secretary of Transportation and I had a good tour there. It was really quite fascinating.

We’re starting to see some very positive progress.

Earlier this month Continental Airlines –which has merged with United – was the first domestic carrier to fly passengers on a flight powered by algae-based biofuel blended with a petroleum-based jet fuel. The flight from Houston to Chicago was among the first commercial passenger flights in the world to use biomass jet fuel.

And Alaska Airlines is using renewable jet fuels on passenger flights as well. Alaska is flying a total of 75 commercial flights using a jet fuel derived from recycled cooking oil that is blended with traditional jet fuel.   

These flights are important because they show quite clearly that there is no difference between an aircraft flying on petroleum-based jet fuel and one that flies on jet fuel derived from algae or cooking oils. But even more important is the recent announcement by United that it would negotiate the purchase of 20 million gallons of alternative jet fuel. Such agreements are a vital step in developing this market.

And these flights would not have been possible but for the hard work of many of you in this room.

These steps in creating and using alternative fuels are important not only to the FAA–they are important to our nation and are a key priority for our President.

Fuel represents as much as 40 percent of an airline’s total expenses, on average. And that’s rising.

Sustainable alternative jet fuels offer benefits for both our environment and our economy.  They can help stabilize supply and the cost volatility in the jet fuel market.

Consider that last year U.S. airlines spent $36 billion on jet fuel. That’s $21 billion more than in 2000 even though the airlines consumed three billion gallons less.   

Even a decrease of 10 cents per gallon could mean an industry savings of $1.7 billion per year.

We are working towards greater efficiency, lower fuel costs, and a decrease in greenhouse gases.

So today I would like to announce some good news for the further advancement of alternative jet fuels. The FAA's investment in alternative fuels has been a key element of our NextGen program. We are increasing our commitment by awarding contracts for nearly $8 million to eight companies to promote the development and use of drop-in jet biofuels.

These contracts will help develop and approve a variety of alternative fuels. As part of that work, the companies will develop biofuels from a variety of sources that could include sugar cane, wood chips, switch grass, and other organic materials.

The FAA is partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory to test the novel jet biofuels developed under this effort. The folks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have helped analyze many fuels for the industry. We appreciate the collaboration.

These contracts also will allow us to conduct research on the best guidelines for quality control of biofuels. They will allow us to conduct tests simulating long-term use of alternative jet fuels to study the effects on engine wear. And they will support research to measure the sustainability of different alternative jet fuels.  

These efforts will further the significant progress CAAFI has made in ushering new fuels to approval.

Two years ago, in September 2009, CAAFI helped secure historic approval for an alternative drop-in fuel that can be made out of coal, natural gas or biomass. It was approved for use at a 50 percent blend with fossil fuels.  This was the first time in 20 years that a new standard for jet fuel had been certified.

In July of this year, CAAFI again helped usher through approval by ASTM International for a renewable fuel made from bio-derived oils. This jet biofuel was approved at a blend of 50 percent with petroleum fuel. This milestone allows us to use biofuel made from any source of renewable oil–such as plants, algae, animal fats or other sustainable sources.

We are furthering that very important work with these new contracts.

In addition, the Navy, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture are working with industry to create advanced biofuels for fighter jets, commercial airliners and trucks.

NASA is conducting projects to measure the air quality benefits of alternative fuels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is examining greenhouse gas benefits of these fuels.

Also, last year, the FAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a five year agreement to assess the availability of different kinds of feedstocks that will be needed by biorefineries to produce renewable jet fuels.

We are working to encourage farmers to plant feedstocks that will expand the variety and availability of alternative fuels.

The next step is to work on how to turn up the effort and produce a greater volume of these alternative fuels. We need to make these fuels more economical and we need to improve access. We want to get these fuels into production so that they are more readily available.

Airlines used 17 billion gallons of jet fuel last year.  The FAA’s goal by 2018 is for commercial airlines to use 1 billion gallons of alternative jet fuel per year. I would be the first to admit this is ambitious.  On the other hand, we’ve come a long way in five years from CAAFI’s first meeting.

To create this new pathway for alternative fuels, it’s going to take a lot of teamwork.

We need continued collaboration between government, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airports, researchers and the energy industry.   It’s going to take a lot of work from everyone at CAAFI and all stakeholders to move this effort forward.

We are working with both Australia and Brazil to bring our countries together to leverage our knowledge and efforts to promote aviation biofuels. These are the first such agreements we have made. And we hope more will follow. 

Aviation has the potential to be a leading user of sustainable alternative fuels. The cost of fuel is such a major portion of aviation operations. We are all motivated to innovate, to explore, and to create a new way of powering flight.

You are the people who are making this happen. I can’t thank you enough for your hard work and dedication. You identify needed research. You secure approval for new fuels, and you address the environmental and business issues. I want to thank you in advance for your continued efforts.

Working together, we can continue to foster the kind of cooperation and inspiration needed to move aviation into a new era of fuel efficiency and sustainability.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am happy to take questions.

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