Make no mistake: jet fuels derived from renewable energy sources aren’t a far-off dream. Multiple technology paths exist to produce such fuels, and innumerable test flights over the past decade have consistently demonstrated their equal performance to conventional Jet A.
However, a lack of widescale production facilities and distribution outlets have hindered broader adoption of sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF). Even as SAJF acceptance has lagged in the market, there has been extensive work behind the scenes to improve the availability of these fuels.
At EBACE2018 in May, NBAA joined with other industry stakeholders to announce The Business Aviation Guide to Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuels, which is focused on raising awareness and adoption of available and emerging alternative jet fuel options in the U.S. and Europe.
“The technology behind this concept is in place, but the limiting factor has primarily been the lack of production facilities and widespread distribution sources,” said Eli Cotti, NBAA’s director of technical operations. “Through this new initiative we hope that business aviation may advance the proliferation of alternative fuels at all the logical touchpoints: the manufacturers, the ground handlers and the operators, at the national, regional and international levels.”
Also working toward these goals is the Commercial
Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), a public/private partnership between the airlines and the FAA to accelerate development and deployment of sustainable alternatives to Jet A. This includes collaboration with other industry stakeholders, including NBAA and the military.
In 2016, AltAir Fuels earned certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) to become the first U.S. source for production of renewable diesel and jet fuel at a converted oil refinery in Paramount, CA. The company joined a handful of international companies working at various stages to expand production of SAJF.
“Some entities in this space have also announced plans to expand production, and new players have come onboard,” noted CAAFI Executive Director Steve Csonka. “In some cases, that includes existing entities working on commercial production of sustainable alternative aviation fuels.”
Operators of piston-engine aircraft may also soon find alternatives to 100LL aviation gasoline (avgas) at airports across the country as several companies work to develop a true drop-in replacement for 100LL through the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI.)
While that product remains in the future, some fixed-based operators are looking to alternatives. Dan Demeo, operator of Rabbit Aviation at San Carlos Airport (SQJ) near California’s Silicon Valley, first explored the possibility of an avgas alternative in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
“I wanted an exclusive product to offer, and I looked to unleaded, no-ethanol automotive gasoline, as that’s what I’d flown with while training for my private pilot license,” he explained. “As it turned out, I’d never had such good timing in my life, as soon after SQL became one of the 17 airports chosen by the FAA for monitoring lead emissions.”
In 2016, Rabbit Aviation became one of a select number of authorized distributors for 94-octane unleaded fuel (94UL) produced by Swift Fuels. While not a true drop-in replacement for 100LL, 94UL is approved for use in a variety of non-turbocharged piston aircraft engines with compression ratios of 8.5:1 or lower through supplemental type certification approval.
Demeo is now working to secure a lease for a new, larger storage tank for 94UL. “Lowering a product’s cost is a surefire way to incentivize its use,” he stated. “It would be great to be able to buy an entire rail tanker of fuel to drive prices way down.”
An expanded version of this article appears in the July/August 2018 edition of NBAA’s flagship member publication, Business Aviation Insider. Download the BAI app at www.nbaa.org/news/insider/.