WASHINGTON - Plane maker Airbus and aerospace manufacturer Honeywell International 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.
The biofuel would be able to run existing jet engines and auxiliary power units of commercial airliners.
Testing of the biofuel in the APUs, which run the airplane’s systems when it’s on the ground and the jets are turned off, will take place at Honeywell’s Aerospace division at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Each company in the partnership will invest time and intellectual property into developing a biofuel that can be sold to refiners or others interested in producing it, said Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell.
Currently, commercial airlines run their planes on kerosene, though some alternative fuels are being tested.
The goal of the project is to test the biofuel on an actual aircraft within 24 months, said Honeywell spokeswoman Karen Crabtree.
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.
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.”
Honeywell UOP, based in Des Plaines, Ill, 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,” Honeywell UOP spokeswoman Susan Gross said Thursday.
- Tribune writer Ed Taylor contributed to this report.