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NextGen Alternative Aviation Fuel Development

NextGen Alternative Aviation Fuel Development

By 2025, U.S. air traffic is predicted to have more than doubled compared to current levels, and our present air traffic control system will not be able to manage this growth. The solution? All eyes are looking to the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NextGen), a transformation of both our National Airspace System and system of airports that uses the latest technologies to ensure that future safety, capacity, and environmental needs are met.

The NextGen vision was developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Joint Planning and Development Office, which facilitates interagency cooperation, and will be realized through coordinated efforts of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Commerce, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

NextGen Alternative Aviation Fuel Development

At USDOT, a major component of the FAA's NextGen implementation plan is the rapid advancement of technologies that will mitigate the impact of aviation on the environment. A priority focus is the development of alternative aviation fuels, and RITA's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA, has been fully engaged in this endeavor. In 2008, the Volpe Center supported two main alternative aviation fuel initiatives: the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and the Alternative Aviation Fuel X PRIZE Roadmap.

CAAFI was established to enhance energy security and environmental sustainability for aviation by exploring the potential use of alternative fuels. CAAFI, through regular summits, workshops, panel meetings, publications, and its website (, provides a forum for the U.S. commercial aviation community to engage the emerging alternative fuels industry and to work together, share and collect needed data, and motivate and direct research on aviation alternative fuels. CAAFI is aimed at promoting the development of alternative fuel options that offer equivalent levels of safety and compare favorably with petroleum-based jet fuel on cost and environmental bases, with the specific goal of enhancing the security of energy supply. The Volpe Center provided CAAFI with several leading alternative aviation fuel experts and extensive workshop logistics support.

Most recently, CAAFI representatives took part in a flight test organized by CAAFI sponsors-Continental Airlines, Boeing, General Electric, and others. During the test, a 50 percent blend of hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel, derived from jatropha plant stock and algae feedstock, powered one of two engines on a Continental 737-800.

Also during FY 2008, the Volpe Center led efforts to bring the X PRIZE model of innovative technology development to the area of alternative aviation fuels by establishing a working relationship with the X PRIZE Foundation of Los Angeles, CA, that will culminate in the Alternative Aviation Fuel/PRIZE Roadmap. (The mission of the X PRIZE Foundation is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity- creating and managing prizes that drive innovators to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.) With the project Roadmap set to be in place by October 2009, this initiative will offer substantial fi nancial and public relations incentives to industry and academic participants to develop a viable, environmentally friendly alternative to aviation fossil fuel.