Alternative Aviation Fuels Create Big Buzz at 2011 Paris Air Show

July 1, 2011
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Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale is Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services (MAS) within the International Trade Administration (ITA).

The Paris Air Show once again proved to be an exciting venue for innovative technologies, particularly alternative fuels.  A highlight of the show was the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase, hosted in the U.S. Pavilion.  In addition to myself and Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sánchez, a number of senior U.S. government officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, stopped by the booth to chat with U.S. companies about their new technologies.

The Showcase was the center of attention on Wednesday, when the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and Kallman Worldwide hosted an entire day dedicated to attracting investment for the commercial production of alternative jet fuels.  My Aerospace Team has been collaborating with CAAFI and Kallman for six months to promote this event.  Their efforts proved very successful — over 100 people attended various portions of the day’s events, which included panels on the investment community’s perspective on alternative fuels and on government programs supporting biofuel development.

During my remarks at the Showcase’s investment day, I had the pleasure of introducing Barry Johnson, the recently appointed head of the new SelectUSA initiative, a government-wide initiative housed in the Department of Commerce.  President Obama created SelectUSA on June 17 to showcase the United States and encourage, facilitate, and accelerate business investment in the United States.

Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sánchez (left), ITA Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale (right) and AltAir Founder and CEO Tom Todaro (middle) at the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase at the 2011 Paris Air Show.  Photo Courtesy of Kallman Worldwide.

Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sánchez (left), ITA Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale (right) and AltAir Founder and CEO Tom Todaro (middle) at the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase at the 2011 Paris Air Show. Photo Courtesy of Kallman Worldwide.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earned the distinction as the first U.S. Agriculture Secretary to attend a Paris Air Show.  In his remarks to aviation business leaders, Secretary Vilsack indicated that President Obama is planning a major announcement in the “next 30 days or so” regarding the U.S. government’s effort to help develop biofuel.  The Secretary also highlighted U.S. government support for aviation alternative fuels through USDA’s memoranda of understanding with several government and aviation-related agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Air Transport Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Navy, on efforts to research and develop renewable energy and the infrastructure to support it.

Throughout the week there were a number of exciting announcements related to alternative fuels.  U.S. company Gulfstream completed the first non-stop transatlantic flight using a 50/50 blend of biofuel and petroleum fuel.  The Gulfstream G450 is the first business jet powered by a biofuel and the flight set a record as the first biofuel-powered transatlantic flight.  Later that week, Boeing flew its 747-800 using a fuel with a 15 percent blend of bio to petroleum fuel.  Both fuels were produced by Honeywell Aerospace.  In addition, seven airlines signed letters of intent to negotiate purchase of biomass-derived jet fuel from California-based Solena Fuels.  Another U.S. company, Sapphire Energy, announced that it will produce 20,000 barrels of algae-based jet fuel in two years with the goal of producing at commercially viable levels within seven years.

The companies in the Showcase promoted biofuels as a technically viable replacement for conventional petroleum jet fuels and as a way to help the airline industry reduce its carbon footprint.  In fact, alternative jet fuels could soon be used to power commercial flights.  This summer the standard setting body, ASTM International, is widely expected to certify Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) fuel.  HRJ is processed from weedy plants and animal fats and is chemically identical to the crude oil that runs today’s flights.  Following ASTM certification, companies would have a greater incentive to build bio-refineries to produce HRJ fuel on a commercial scale.  In addition to HRJ, another pathway being researched is Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) — fuels derived from alcohol-based sources.  Touted as a low-cost route to production of jet fuel, ATJ research is being funded and conducted by the U.S. military and by U.S. companies such as GEVO and SRI International.  Full certification of ATJ by ASTM is expected by 2013.

One green initiative that I am particularly proud of involves my hometown of Detroit, Michigan, which is using its land to farm bioenergy crops.  The Wayne County Airport Authority, operator of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, has agreed to partner with Michigan State University Extension to grow, harvest, and process bioenergy crops on the property of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and another of the authority’s airports, Willow Run.  The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is supporting the project with a $476,000 grant.  If successful, the project will attract businesses in the area to produce alternative fuels, bring economic development to southeast Michigan and protect land around the airports.

The desire for cleaner, more sustainable fuel sources is a global concern, and everyone on the planet will benefit from reduced dependence on petroleum fuels.  ITA is committed to fostering a green economy so that industry will lead the way in winning the jobs of the future.  As President Obama said, we must seize the moment and accelerate the transition to clean energy.  We, in ITA, will continue to work with U.S. aviation alternative fuel companies and our interagency partners to support this objective.  It was exciting to be part of this event and to support a rapidly growing industry in which the United States is a global leader!


  1. This really does sound like great progress is being made in the development of alternative fuels for aviation. Lets hope this will be a very real solution to our ever growing carbon footprint!

    • I don’t necessarily believe that we leave that much of a “damaging” carbon footprint upon the earth, but I do love to see that we are making greater strides in providing a cleaner atmosphere for our children. The development of alternative fuels for aviation is just one step closer to better energy, cleaner air, and a longer future for mankind.

  2. Alternative fuels has a big future I believe. Branson putting massive amounts of money into the research as I understand it. Air New Zealand has been conducting tests both in France and here in New Zealand. It’ll be interesting to see how these fuels develop with airlines looking to reduce costs and become more efficient.

  3. I don’t necessarily believe that we leave that much of a “damaging” carbon footprint upon the earth, but I do love to see that we’re making greater strides toward cleaner air, better fuels, and a longer future for mankind.

  4. As these airline fuel are increasing it is realy suffering the passengers who travel.Where the are suffered by paying big amounts for traveling. this issue should be raised and proper action must be taken as fast as followed.

  5. Can anyone tell me what is being used to make the biofuel?

    If they are going to use existing food crops, then there surely will be boom and busts for the consumers of food and the processors.

    So will be interesting to see how it all washes up.


    • I wonder the same thing. If we need to grow more crops would we not need more land for farming?

      We are already cutting down the rain forest, will we have to increase the deforestation to produce fuel?

  6. The greater inroads that we make towards alternative fuels that are cleaner and less dependent of fossil fuels the better! It sounds like the trade show is a great venue to platform new innovations and competition!

  7. It is important to start somewhere. Aviation industry has the capability of turning the wheel stronger than any other. The aviation industry has taken an intense interest in the subject, and this might be enough to push biofuels over the edge into economic viability. The planet will benefit bigtme

  8. Sapphire Energy’s algae jet fuel commercially viable in seven years? This is a much more sustainable source of biofuel than ethanol corn based products. Corn prices are out of control. But nobody was eating algae and there is no market for that unless, and until, it is worth harvesting oils from. If this is worth doing for jet fuel in seven years then it probably will be ready for cars even sooner?

  9. Pleased to read that so many around the globe are serious about the future of the enviroment and reducing the carbon footprint, with so many planes in the sky each year making inroads to bio fuels is a must! I hope these bio fuels can be implimented in other mechanical equipments.

  10. I personally appreciate every effort to diversify energy sources, including the production of bio fuels.

    But apart from all the buzz with going green, be responsible for earth, etc., the big question here is whether we want to go green at the expense of destroying food crops, and if the race for low-cost alternative fuels will be more damaging than producing traditional petroleum jet fuels.

    It’s interesting to see how this race develops, and will it be beneficial to all stakeholders.

  11. At this particular 2011 Paris Air show, Airbus alone announced orders and commitments totalling over 72 Billion dollars! Add the orders from Boeing and that means a lot more aircraft traversing our skies in the future. With the number of commercial aircraft increasing significantly alternative fuels for aviation I believe are needed more than ever. I am extremely encouraged to see the large number of companies promoting bio fuels that were mentioned in this article. It is also positive to see that the US Government is offering to help develop bio fuel.

  12. Leave it to the French to lead this initiative

  13. I hope this is a great progress in the development of alternative fuels for aviation. It could be one step for a better future. Go green!

  14. I do understand that by using bio fuel this will help clearing up the sky with less pollution but if we use bio fuel this will clash up with our food supply.
    For e.g if they use maize to make those bio fuel and you know out there in the world there countries whose main food supply is maize.
    So i can imagine the impact that this will have on their life style.
    But that’s just my opinion.

  15. The development of alternative and biofuels in aviation will make a huge impact not only on the environment, but on manufacturing, and other sectors in the economy. Thanks.

  16. As the development and use of alternative fuels moves forward, the farming of bioenergy crops will become more and more important. Farmers struggling to survive should definitely invest their time and land in this area.

  17. It’s great to see such progress being made in the development of alternative aviation fuels

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