Airlines mull joint purchasing ventures for alternative fuels

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While it is not their first choice, US carriers are looking to alternative jet fuel joint purchasing programmes to bolster the fledgling alternative aviation fuels industry.

"I would much prefer not having to do this, that producers get financing or government help," US Airways managing director of fuel administration Michael Baer said at the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) general meeting on 30 September.

But with uncertainty surrounding the ability of emerging alternative jet fuel producers to obtain funding from commercial lenders in the economic downturn, airlines recognize they may need to step up for commercial quantities of alternative fuels to materialise, says Baer, who serves asCAAFI business and economic team leader and a member of the energy council at the Air Transport Association of America (ATA).

Members of ATA's energy council have been looking into alternative fuels purchasing strategies for more than a year, but determining how to structure joint purchasing agreements has been challenging, Baer says.

One possibility is to center purchasing deals atspecific airports near alternative fuels supplies, Baer says.

But airport specific deals would make it difficult to garner participation from airlines not operating from that facility, and such agreements would need to recognize that airlines change the destinations they serve, he says.

Airport agnostic deals could also work if alternative fuels producers have a large enough distribution network, Baer says,

As airlines continue to explore purchasing options for alternative fuels,voluntary standards development organisation ASTM International published a specification for non-petroleum-based fuels, D7566, last month.

The specification enables the commercial production of blends of generic synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process and sets the stage for commercial airlines to use up to 50% of such blends with petroleum-derived jet fuel once ASTM modifies the existing specification for aviation turbine fuel, D1655, to recognize fuels made with synthetic components.

ASTM aviation fuels subcommittee vice chairman for emerging fuels George Wilson says he expects D1655 modification to occur by the end of December.

In addition, ASTM is expected to consider bio-derived SPKs, called hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ), next year, paving the way for commercial production and use of fuels derived from sources such as jatropha, camelina and algae. This specification will be for 50% biofuel blends.