FAA works with X Prize foundation to foster alternative fuels competition

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As the push to certify a full biofuel by 2013 continues, the US FAA has awarded half a million dollars to the X Prize foundation to devise a strategy that creates monetary incentives for the development of alternative fuels.

The foundation awards X Prizes, which can reach $10 million or more, to the first team achieving a specific goal set by the foundation. In October 2004 the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team won the $10 million Ansari X prize for SpaceShipOne developed by Burt Rutan and Mircrosoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Using the half-million supplied by FAA the X Prize Foundation over the next 14 months will develop the judgment criteria for the alternative fuel prize and supervise the fund raising for the actual monetary award. During a call with reporters earlier today FAA director of the office of environment and energy Carl Burleson cited the X Prize Foundation’s “real expertise” in that area.

Specifically the X Prize project, which will last from three to eight years, is focusing on accelerating the development and use of cost-effective renewable aviation fuels that are favorable for the environment, and do not create negative side effects such as the displacement of food production.

In addition to working with other organizations to craft the alternative fuel development strategy, the X Prize foundation is also teaming with members of FAA’s Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative on the project.

The US DOT in February revealed plans to issue a 14-month contract and supply $25,000-$500,000 in funding to three contractors to build research roadmaps for integrating alternative fuel incentive programmes into development plans for the FAA next-generation air transportation system (Nextgen).

FAA’s partnership with the X Prize foundation occurs as momentum for the development and testing of alternative fuels continues to build, and as airlines opt to conduct their own research and testing.

British Airways today became the latest carrier to express an interest in conducting tests, announcing its partnership with engine manufacturer Rolls-Royse to develop a test programme examining the viability of alternative fuels for the aviation industry. The companies are launching a joint tender process for suppliers to offer alternative fuel samples for testing on a Rolls-Royce RB211 on a BA Boeing 747.

Other carriers planning alternative fuel tests are Air New Zealand during the fourth quarter followed by Continental Airlines next year. Virgin Atlantic earlier this year conducted a highly-publicized biofuel test on a Boeing 747 while JetBlue Airways is working with Airbus, Honeywell and International Aero Engines on a second-generation biofuels initiative.

Burleson of FAA says work is continuing for certification of a synthetic blend alternative fuel this year, followed by 50% biofuel blend in 2010.