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Alterative fuels specifications pass first certifying hurdle

Airline commercial use of alternative fuels has moved closer to reality after a key subcommittee of certifying body ASTM International passed specifications for non petroleum-based fuels, currently known as D-XXXX, on 24 June.

The aviation fuels subcommittee at ASTM, a voluntary standards development organization, voted in favour of specifications that will enable commercial aircraft to operate with blends of generic synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) derived from the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Commercial airlines, as well as private operators and the military, will be able to use up to 50% blends of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels with standard petroleum-derived jet fuel once ASTM finalises specifications.

Before approval can happen, the ASTM petroleum products and lubricants committee must also pass the new specifications. The committee is expected to receive a ballot on the matter within the next two weeks.

If no committee member casts a negative ballot, final ASTM approval is expected by this fall, 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 the meantime, the subcommittee decision provides alternative fuel producers and investors needed assurance to move forward with business plans as certification is a prerequisite to airline use, he adds.

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.

In the meantime, industry is applauding the subcommittee's decision.

"The action of the ASTM subcommittee is a landmark step for all consumers of jet fuel," Air Transport Association of America (ATA) president and CEO James May says in a statement. "It signals the beginning of a new era for widespread production and use of cleaner, alternative fuels that not only will help the airline industry meet its environmental goals but also will provide airlines with more competitive options for purchasing jet fuel while simultaneously enhancing US energy security."

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