Plane maker Airbus and diversified manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. on Thursday said they are developing a biofuel that by 2030 could satisfy nearly a third of the worldwide demand from commercial aircraft, without affecting food supplies.
Along with JetBlue Airways Corp. and International Aero Engines, they plan to produce fuel from vegetation and algae-based oils that do not compete with existing food production or land and water resources.
International Aero Engines is a multinational consortium whose shareholders include United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce.
Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said in the "technical partnership," each company will invest time and intellectual property into developing and testing a biofuel that can later be sold to refiners or others interested in producing it.
Currently, commercial airlines run their planes on kerosene, though some alternative fuels are being tested.
President Bush in December signed an energy bill that requires refineries to use 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022 with at least 21 billion gallons of the alternative fuel coming from nonfood raw materials.
The U.S. currently produces nearly 7 billion gallons of ethanol annually, all from corn. Critics say reliance on that crop has helped inflate food prices, while skeptics note there is no way to know when biofuels from other sources will be commercially available.
Engine modifications not expected
Airbus and its partners are undeterred.
"In order to replace a significant portion of that jet fuel with bio-jet, we need to find something that has much greater yield than the current biomass sources available," Sebastien Remy, head of alternative fuels research programs for Airbus, said in a release. "Airbus believes that second-generation bio-jet could provide up to 30 percent of all commercial aviation jet fuel by 2030."
Airbus, which is owned by European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. NV, and Chicago-based rival Boeing Co. dominate the global market for commercial airplanes carrying 100 or more people. The new biofuel is expected to be a "drop-in" replacement for kerosene jet fuel that won't require engine modifications, according to Airbus and Honeywell representatives.
The new biofuel will be produced using technology developed by Honeywell UOP, which has created a process to convert biological material into renewable jet fuel that performs like traditional fuel and meets flight performance specifications.
Honeywell UOP last June was selected by the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop and commercialize production of jet fuel from the same renewable sources for use by U.S. and NATO military aircraft. That process will be completed by the end of this year and "we see no issue with the technology working on the commercial side," UOP spokeswoman Susan Gross said Thursday.
DuPont, Danes cut cellulosic deal
On Wednesday, DuPont executives said a new joint venture with a Danish company will enable production of cellulosic ethanol that costs less to manufacture than corn-based ethanol and won't drive up food prices. The companies plan to invest $140 million in the U.S.-based venture and hope to have a commercial-scale demonstration facility, making fuel from the leaves and stalks of corn and from the remnants of sugarcane stalks, operating by 2012.
Speaking at a Wednesday hearing on the global rise in food prices, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., applauded DuPont's plan.
"We must push harder in the search for alternatives, and not just because of the price of food," Biden said. "Our foreign policy is held hostage to our dependence on imported oil."