PARIS: US agriculture secretary throws weight behind biofuels

Paris
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US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack threw some high-profile weight behind the push to scale up alternative aviation fuel production during a speech at the show, in which he outlined the US government's commitment to helping the industry become more sustainable.

"It's clear that as we deal with issues of climate change and an unstable oil supply there is a precondition to ask if there is a better, more sustainable way to meet the aviation needs of the future," said Vilsack.

The US Department of Agriculture has established five virtual research centres across the country to identify which feedstocks will work as a base for developing alternative fuels, and is "working to provide loan guarantees" to help companies build the refineries that will turn those feedstocks into jet fuel.

"[These companies] have a partner in the USDA to reduce the risk and allow these facilities to be built," said Vilsack, adding that farmers will also be provided with government resources to help with the expenses associated with planting these new crops.

Vilsack was reluctant to provide a timescale for when he expects commercially viable levels of biofuels to be available for wide-scale use in aviation, but he said: "I'd like to be able to say the timetable was yesterday. There is still work to be done to construct refineries so I'm not going to suggest it will be done overnight, but there has been extraordinary progress in the last 12 months."

In terms of developing the infrastructure needed to transport these fuels from refineries to airport fuelling stations, Vilsack said discussions are taking place on constructing pipelines and upgrading the rail system. "Once you have a market and someone is interested in purchasing a product, you'll find a way of getting it there."

He is also confident that as competition increases and the risk of developing alternative fuels reduces, prices will moderate and stabilise, allowing airlines to enter long-term purchasing agreements.