Aviation Biofuels on the Cusp of Commercialization: Will the Next Farm Bill Help?

The aviation biofuel industry is taxiing toward takeoff. However, additional federal support may be needed to help get the first commercial scale projects off the ground. Will the next Farm Bill help fill in the critical gaps in the flight path to sustainable aviation biofuels?

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in conjunction with Airlines for America (A4A, formerly the Air Transport Association of America) and the Boeing Company, published "Agriculture and Aviation: Partners in Prosperity". The report reviews the significant recent progress and current status of several projects across the United States to develop commercial scale production of sustainable aviation biofuel.

Civilian airlines and the aircraft industry have indicated a clear commitment to shift to biofuels. Their decision is driven by the extreme volatility of global petroleum prices, mounting global oil supply risks, and European Union climate protection regulations. In order to assure the security and cost of its fuel supplies, the U.S. Department of Defense, the largest single consumer of liquid fuels in the United States, has also made a commitment to replace a significant portion of its aviation, maritime, and vehicle fuel with biofuels. The advanced biofuel industry is now mobilizing to meet that demand. The strong emerging market for the product is leading financing, feedstock producers, and supply chains to come together in different regions of the country.

In an accompanying set of recommendations, the airline industry and Boeing recommended continuing and strengthening existing Farm Bill energy programs – such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative – to help assure successful commercialization of the first big projects. Establishing the feedstocks and supply chains in at least two project areas will be key to getting the industry up and running on its own in the future. Demonstration of successful, economically competitive biofuel production at commercial scale will also be critical.

On January 30, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced the hearing schedule for the 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization. Energy programs will be among the topics for the first hearing on February 15. Click here to see the list of panelists.

To find out if your senator serves on the Agriculture Committee, click here.

For previous EESI posts and background information on the Farm Bill reauthorization, click here.