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DOT to consider prize money for alternative fuels breakthroughs

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to issue a 14-month contract to find out the “best option for incentivizing” industry, academia and the general public to "speed up" the development non-fossil alternative aviation fuel technologies for the commercial aviation fleet.

In a recently-published notice, the DOT revealed that it will provide between $25,000 and $500,000 in funding to as many as three contractors to develop “research roadmaps” that integrate alternative fuels incentive programs into current development plans for the FAA’s next generation air transportation system (Nextgen).

“Avoiding serious, imminent and irreversible threats to US aviation, including prohibitive air travel congestion and increased environmental damage, particularly to air quality, depend on the success of Nextgen,” the DOT states in the broad agency announcement for the incentive research.

Looking forward, the DOT says the FAA’s Office of Environment and Energy has determined that two main research initiatives under its purview will contribute dramatically to the success of Nextgen – Improvements in aviation fuel-burn modelling and alternative aviation fuel technology development.

While fuel-burn modelling is being handled by “subject-specific white papers” (SSWP), a method by which solutions are culled from commissioned research papers by a pool of experts, the DOT says the FAA’s environmental experts and others believe the SSWP method may not be “the most practical way to pursue” the development of alternative fuels.

“In recent years, large-scope technological breakthroughs have been achieved via prize competitions – most notably in space travel,” the DOT explains.

Winning proposals are to focus on one of three areas: Promoting alternative fuel technologies through the SSWP method, offering financial incentives through prizes, or coming up with alternative incentive methods. DOT says the incentive opportunities “are likely to best occur over a 3- to 8-year timeframe.”

Responses to the inquiry are due February 18.

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