CAAFI pools aviation industry resources to certify synthetic jet fuel

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CAAFI aims to widen acceptance of alternative fuels

A major new player in fuel development should soon see its first major certification goal realised in a bold new approval process for 50% blends of synthetic jet fuel. If all goes well, CAAFI will shepherd certification of 100% synthetic kerosene blends by 2010 and similar biofuels approvals for jets as early as 2013.

The Commercial Aviation Alter­native Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) pools the resources of major sponsors and stakeholders from across the aviation industry. The Aerospace Industries Associ­ation, the Air Transport Association, Airports Council International - North America, and the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Environ­ment and Energy are sponsors. They have brought dozens of stakeholders into the fold, including representatives of eight other countries, to advance alternative aviation fuels.

CAAFI gives aviation a united presence to better approach other parties, such as regulators and the energy sector. CAAFI panels examine production and delivery, certification and qualification, environmental issues, and research and development. Internal "roadmaps" guide the certification panel, and their work has prepared ASTM Inter­national's Subcommittee J for Aviation Fuels to consider adding a new fuel approval method to its list of industry standards.

Presently, the few individual alternative fuels in use have been approved individually, says CAAFI executive director Richard Altman, but soon any producer could be welcome to meet the new standards on fuel for US skies.

This change was sparked in 2006 when the US Air Force, a CAAFI stakeholder, issued a request for information before its high-profile B-52 engine tests with 50% synthetic kerosene made using the Fischer-Tropsch process. "They received as many as 27 different viable bids, and to ensure competition they didn't wish to preclude a qualified bid on the basis that that particular fuel, by name, has not been qualified," Altman says.

"In addition, it has historically taken a very long time for fuels to be certified. A fuel candidate would go through as much as a 10-year process. That really hurt the business case for investment."

Currently the certification and qualification panel is focused on drop-in fuels, says Mark Rumizen, FAA fuels specialist and CAAFI Certification team leader. "That is, it's chemically identical to fuel made from petroleum." CAAFI has also carefully developed specification language to accommodate synthetic IPK paraffinic kerosene fuel. "Part of what we're doing," Rumizen says, "is developing industry and FAA guidance on steps you need to get approval for synthetic fuels."

CAAFI is already working to meet the 2010 date for an approval process of 100% synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK), says Altman.

Environmental consequences of emissions and fuel production are not completely understood, even for petroleum-based fuels, but ultra-low sulphur fuels such as 100% SPK have health effect advantages by reducing small particle formation.

Only fuels with global greenhouse gas emissions equal or less than that of petroleum are considered by CAAFI, Altman says. Rounding up environmental data is one focus of the CAAFI Environ­mental team which Dr Lourdes Maurice, chief scientist of the FAA environment and energy office, leads. "We just recently completed a measurement campaign - under the auspices of the Part­ner­­ship for AiR Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction center of excellence - of emissions data from biofuels, conventional fuels, and Fischer-Tropsch fuel," she says. "Reports won't be available for a few months."

CAAFI's timing on biofuels is partly dependent on studies led by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, aiming to achieve key milestones by the end of 2008 for fuels made from plant oils.

A new emphasis by DARPA on algae as a feed stock in proposals due this month has the attention of many of the 18 CAAFI energy company stakeholders, says Lourdes. "CAAFI stakeholders from new companies such as Live Fuels and established biofuel companies such as Imperium, are pursuing 'live' fuels. Shell Oil, a CAAFI stakeholder, recently formed a venture in Hawaii to develop algae fuels. Amyris Bio­tech­nologies (also a stakeholder) is working on a fermentation process to produce a bio-derived fuel that closely resembles conventional jet fuel," she says.