Speaking during a business roundtable meeting in Chicago Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the United States is particularly well positioned to transition to a broader bio-economy, which includes production of aviation fuel in commercial quantities. He also pointed out that the American farmer has logged substantial productivity gains over time to meet growing demands for food and fiber and now biomass.
The Secretary also said a robust rural economy will result by implementing the Obama Administration’s vision for renewable fuel development which creates sustainable jobs by combining new markets, new technologies and better use of available natural resources. The roundtable was attended by representative of United Continental Holdings and Honeywell.
The Secretary said the Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry have invested more than $80 million in research focused on developing aviation biofuels. And to encourage the production of advanced biofuels from non-food sources, USDA has made payments to 235 companies already producing biofuels from non-corn feedstocks in 42 states.
In the United States alone, passenger and cargo airlines spend about $50 billion on fuel each year. If just a fraction of those billions were used to purchase American-produced aviation biofuels, it would provide the opportunity to create thousands of good-paying jobs in communities across the nation.
"This past few months reminded us that the future of biofuels for aviation is bright," said USDA spokesman Justin DeJong. "We saw the first domestic passenger flights powered by biofuels and USDA issued a loan guarantee to a private firm that will build and operate a biorefinery in New Mexico to support the conversion of algae into a renewable jet fuel."
Projects like these that exemplify USDA's support of aviation biofuels and at the CAFFI meeting USDA and FAA released a 'Feedstock Readiness Level Tool' to help support future planning efforts to develop biofuels for aviation. Also, USDA is releasing a draft report – authored in conjunction with the Air Transport Association and Boeing – that outlines the work on aviation biofuels to-date, and contains USDA findings and private partners' recommendations for next steps.