U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office

Report: Recommendations for Biofuels in the Aviation Industry

June 28, 2013

The Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI) has released a report outlining the steps needed to make biofuels a permanent facet of the commercial aviation industry. The report also identified the importance of making this a reality, as well as outlined the commitments made by MASBI partners in the years ahead.

Expanding the availability of aviation-grade biofuels will have numerous benefits to the airline industry and the economy. From 1990 to 2012, fuel costs increased by 574% and are now the single largest expense for commercial aviation, accounting for up to 40% of an airline’s operating budget. The industry spends $6.3 billion on fuel for flights originating out of the Midwest alone; if they replaced 5% of their petroleum fuel with biofuel, they could more than 3,600 jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 700,000 tons.

The report was produced after a year-long analysis of MASBI members United Airlines, Boeing, Honeywell’s UOP, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the Clean Energy Trust. Their advisory council is chaired by the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s partner, Argonne National Laboratory. Key recommendations included:

  • Streamline the approval process for new biofuel production methods
  • Level the policy playing field for advanced biofuels with the conventional petroleum industry
  • Tailor agriculture products such as oil-seed crops for jet-fuel production
  • Improve biofuel production through agricultural innovation, and
  • Pursue deal structures that balance risk and reward for early adopters of technology.

The MASBI project partners also agreed to several commitments to further advance aviation biofuel development:

  • The Chicago Department of Aviation and United Airlines signed a Memorandum of Understanding to initiate a cooperative effort towards identifying opportunities to develop advanced alternative fuels for aviation use, with particular focus on converting waste streams in the Chicago area into lower-carbon aviation fuel.
  • Honeywell’s UOP, United Airlines, and Boeing will provide funding for Purdue University to research ways to convert corn stover—leaves and stalks left in fields after the corn harvest—into jet fuel. The companies’ funding supports existing funding from the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Iowa Corn Growers Association.
  • United Airlines will issue a Request for Proposal for the development and purchase of cost-competitive, sustainable, renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel to supply one of United’s hub locations. Using guidelines and technical requirements presented by MASBI Advisory Council member Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), the intent is to emphasize market demand, spur innovative approaches to partnership across the value chain, and obtain delivery of renewable fuel to be used in daily operations.
  • The Clean Energy Trust will mobilize its existing innovation and advocacy platform to prioritize advance biofuels in its funding strategies and local and federal policy work.

For more information on their research and findings, read the full report, Fueling a Sustainable Future for Aviation.