Top 10 alternative fuel breakthroughs in 2008

By Jeffrey Decker

Flightglobal.com asked leading researchers and policymakers what, amid all the discoveries and hyperbole about alternative aviation fuels, were the most significant breakthroughs in 2008 on the road to commercial viability?

1) ASTM International moved on 7 December to allow any qualified fuel company to sell synthetic jet fuel, with its industry standards-setting committee proposing to amend ASTM D1655 and allow Fischer-Tropsch-processed fuels to power aircraft in 2009.

2) On 21 October, CAAFI's environmental team adopted a framework for well-to-wake lifecycle analysis for alternative jet fuels, preparing common ground as the industry broadens its research into alternative candidates.

3) The Aviation Fuels Committee and UK Ministry of Defence amended DEFSTAN 91-91 on 9 April to approve Sasol's 100% synthetic jet fuel from coal for international sale, nine years after the South African fuel producer's pioneering 50% blend had been approved.

4) Jet fuel blended with a jatropha-based alternative powered one Rolls-Royce RB211 engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-400 on a 2h flight on 30 December. Honeywell's UOP subsidiary converted the oil from the inedible jatropha curcas plant, which grows where others will not.

5) Twenty end-users and 26 energy suppliers meet at the US Department of Commerce in September to co-operate in establishing alternatives into the aviation fuel infrastructure. CAAFI's business and economics team facilitates accelerated roadmaps and plans for commercial deployment of alternative fuels.

6) Careful lifecycle analyses by Partner and other research groups confirmed feasibility for alternative fuels to reduce aviation's climate footprint.

7) The 22 May enactment of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, or "Farm Bill," put aviation on an equal standing with ground transport in the pursuit of research grants and loan guarantees for commercial development.

8) The US Environmental Protection Agency begins to tighten permissible lead emissions in October, pressuring airports with high piston operations. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association then bowed to the inevitable in May by adopting a future avgas policy.

9) Interest in alternative fuel research and production remained strong despite a plunge from record petroleum prices.

10) On 22 April, ATA issued its alternative fuels principles document.

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