If Washington state is the aerospace capital of the world, as the state's Washington, D.C. Rep. Rick Larsen believes, it is about to get even better with the establishment of a new alternative jet fuels center in Richland.
"This national center of excellence will put people to work making our state the base for innovation that will reshape aviation in the 21st century," says the top Democrat in the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee.
"The center will combine our state's unmatched strength in aviation engineering with our unrivaled commitment to protecting the environment."
A new Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment will be stationed in the Pacific Northwest, with Washington State University winning a bid for the operation after months of negotiations.
"This is certainly a coup for our state," says Ralph Cavalieri, WSU associate vice president for alternative energy, who will serve director of the center. "Leveraging the knowledge, expertise and research capabilities of some of the best scientists in the country will speed our progress toward solutions for both the economic and environmental challenges the national aviation industry faces."
WSU President Elson S. Floyd says that "competing for and winning the Center of Excellence designation reaffirms the State of Washington and Washington State University as international leaders in aviation and the development of alternative jet fuels.
"We, along with our university and industry partners, stand ready to deliver the new science, advanced technology and educated workforce the industry will need to be globally competitive."
Selection of WSU to head up the center is a landmark investment, says Washington's U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who adds that "from farms to airports, green jet fuel means jobs for Americans."
Since alternative fuels need feedstocks produced by farmers and foresters, the center can mean a lot to producers, says Cavalieri, who says the FFA wants to be sure such production does not delete food output as a result.
While western farms have been involved with potential oilseed feedstock crops like canola and camelina, some to great extent, it could be forest products that play a chief role in alternative jet fuel resources, he explains.
"FFA does not want to get involved in an argument over use of land for fuel and not food," he says. "But many of the crops we grow that could play a role in jet fuels are produced on either marginal lands or as rotational crops, which really do not take away from the food production on land."
High-yielding grasses like switchgrass could also play a role, notes, but adds that there are many other grasses under study which could also provide fuel alternative resources.
The choice of Washington for the center – a job it will share with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – was due in part to the Evergreen State's aviation leadership as its No. 1 industry, which employs more than 130,000 people at more than 1,200 firms which operate in virtually every county of the state, says Cavalieri.
Not only was it a good decision to locate where the aviation industry is so large, but also to link with a land grant college, where studies are already underway that can help advance the goal of the center, he says.
Other western colleges, including the University of Washington and Oregon State University, will also play a partnership role in the new center which involves a total of 16 universities. More than 50 industry and national lab partners will also be center collaborators.
Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, who represents the Tri-City area, calls the announcement for WSU "exciting news and proof positive of the innovation right here in central Washington. It is also confirmation of the important relationship between WSU and its private sector partners to create new jobs in the Tri-Cities, while providing opportunities for our farmers and driving forward an all-of-the-above American energy approach."
An ongoing $40 million USDA grant alliance in the northwest looking at advanced fuels may also have played a role in selection of WSU, which will establish its center headquarters at its Tri-Cities campus in Richland, Wash. Additionally, another $40 million funding will be used to operate the center for a decade.
For information on the center and a list of cooperating partners, go to www.coe.wsu.edu.
For more on this story, see the November issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.