Alternative fuels specifications win key certifying designation

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Production of alternative fuels for commercial airline use has passed another milestone as a key committee of certifying body ASTM International has passed a specification for non-petroleum-based fuels, which now has been assigned the working number D7566.

The petroleum products and lubricants committee at ASTM, a voluntary international standards development organisation, voted in favour of a specification that will enable commercial production of blends of generic synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process after its aviation fuels subcommittee took the same action in June.

"It's a giant breakthrough," ASTM aviation fuels subcommittee vice chairman for emerging fuels George Wilson tells ATI, fligthglobal's sister premium site. Now that the committee has validated the concept of synthetic fuels, ASTM will then be able review proposals for types of synthetic fuel sources, he explains.

The D7566 specification is now open for review by all ASTM members. This step is more a formality and the final review is expected to close this month without objection, Wilson says.

In addition, the new specification will be submitted for review by US guidelines body the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is charged with determining official alternative fuel standards of the US government. The ANSI review is a procedural step, Wilson says.

The finalised D7566 sets the stage for commercial airlines, as well as private operators and the military, to use up to 50% blends of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels with standard petroleum-derived jet fuel once ASTM modifies the existing specification for aviation turbine fuel, D1655, to recognize fuels made with synthetic components.

The D1655 amendment has not been finalised, but once that is done, balloting will go out simultaneously to both the aviation fuels subcommittee and the petroleum products and lubricants committee, Wilson says. He adds that this balloting process will likely be complete by the end of 2009.

The decision provides alternative fuel producers and investors needed assurance to move forward with business plans as certification is a prerequisite to airline use, says Rich Altman, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), a consortium of aerospace firms, trade groups and the FAA to advance the production and acceptance of alternative aviation fuels.

In addition to reviewing SPKs derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process, ASTM is expected to consider bio-derived SPKs, called hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ), next year using data from several sources including biofuel demonstration flights performed by Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines in December 2008 and January 2009.