That “problem” varies depending on the aviation audience and will feature prominently at the big alternative aviation fuels showcase at the upcoming Paris Air Show.
For civil aviation, it’s about fuel price and volatility, as well as environmental mandates from airlines.
For military aviation, costs are critical, but so is energy sovereignty and fuel availability, especially in-theater.
For all these reasons, says Hurst, both the civilian and military aviation sectors are squarely behind biofuel efforts, with orders for millions of gallons in the next few years from the world’s airlines and from all branches of the US military.
He adds one upside for aviation biofuels producers is that their consumers are prisoners to liquid fuels with today’s aircraft.
“You hear a lot about electric [cars],” he says. “That gets a lot more challenging when you get to airplanes.”
“Aviation biofuels are a great place to start in [the biofuel] industry,” agrees Jim Rekoske, VP and general manager of renewable energy at UOP, a division of Honeywell . “Customers have few other options to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Unlike the auto industry, where hybrids and electric vehicles can pull some market share away from liquid-fuel vehicles, Hurst says it will be a long time before any propulsion technology beyond liquid fuel engines is found in the air.
While a Swiss-made, solar-powered aircraft had a successful test flight in Europerecently, it’s a wide gap from experimental aircraft to solar-powered military transports or tourist-packed commercial jets, he adds.
“I suspect we may see something like a fuel-cell powered aircraft,” he says, “But that’s years off, a decade at least.”
In the meantime, aviation biofuels reached an important milestone this week.
Fuel standards organization ASTM International provisionally approved a new renewable jet fuel that could see 50/50 biofuel/fossil fuel blends power flights very soon.
A final decision should take “no more than 60 days” says UOP’s Rekoske.
Anticipating this approval, German carrier Lufthansa and aircraft maker Airbus plan on daily biofuel-powered flights by this fall.
Since mid-2010, the US military has launched biofuelled test flights with many of its aircraft, from the massive C-17 transport, to F-15 and F-18 fighters, to Seahawk helicopters. The US Air Force expects to certify its whole fleet for biofuel use by 2013.
That could mean a massive new market for aviation biofuels.
According to UN energy statistics, the world’s energy consumption is divided roughly into equal thirds between industrial, transportation and residential usage — a ratio virtually unchanged since the late 1990s.
Aviation accounts for about 12 percent of transportation sector; the UN estimates 7 billion gallons of aviation fuel were produced globally in 2005, the last year such global stats were available.