Alternative Transport Fuels Initiative

The Alternative Transport Fuels Initiative is one of the foundation areas of research of the Dow Sustainability Program. Led by Dr Susan Pond since its inception, the Initiative promotes the development of cost-competitive advanced biofuels as part of the transport energy mix in Australia, particularly for sectors with critical needs, such as aviation, resources, defence and shipping and of the appropriate policy levers that might encourage accelerated take up.

The prosperity of developed and developing countries is underpinned by abundant, affordable energy derived from fossil fuels. The bounty delivered by these fuels — in the form of coal, gas, and oil — since the beginning of the industrial revolution is uncontested. But these fuels are the subject of increasing international concern because of the massive release of CO2 and other greenhouse gas and airborne pollutants into the atmosphere and the effects of these emissions on our climate as well as our food, water, health, and national security.

The Alternative Transport Fuels Initiative aimed to focus on four realities related to transport energy from Australian and US perspectives:

  1. Transport is the major global consumer of oil, burning more than 60 per cent of the world’s total oil production each year.
  2. Aviation, shipping, heavy freight logistics, and defence have very few options other than to rely on the high-energy dense liquid fuels that the oil industry provides, and on existing energy infrastructure for the foreseeable future.
  3. Oil use by these customer segments is forecast to rise due to increased demand for travel, goods, and services in rapidly urbanising countries such as China and India.
  4. This is an unsustainable outcome. It would lead to further increases in emissions, deaths from airborne pollution, and use of a finite resource.

Australia and the United States are both completely dependent on well-developed transport networks but are at very different stages in the development of policy to address the challenges. By focusing on the experiences of these countries, the Alternative Transport Fuels Initiative aimed to bring together experts who could tackle the immense task of finding a way for the transport industry to move beyond its prodigious dependence on oil.


Project impact 

Engagement with the United States Advanced Biofuels Industry

The US is at the leading edge of the advanced biofuels industry. Commercial scale facilities are currently coming on line because of consistent, decades-long policy settings of Federal and California State governments that facilitate the development of the advanced biofuels industry.

The US policy approach is based on the recognition that:

  • Government leadership and vision are required to set the stage for the development of new industries
  • A viable, sustainable domestic clean energy industry will enhance energy independence and security, improve terms of trade, provide environmental benefits, and create national economic opportunities 
  • The switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy faces both political and financial challenges
  • The transport sector accounts for 71 per cent of total US oil consumption and 33 per cent of carbon emissions
  • Aviation has no term viable alternative for energy to kerosene for the foreseeable future
  • An action plan to reduce emissions from aviation requires a multipronged approach 
  • Deployment challenges for renewable aviation fuel production plants are no longer related to technical issues but to challenges of wider-scale commercialisation, including price, supply chains 
  • Investment, political and policy uncertainty restrain growth 
  • Government agency cooperation is key 
  • Potential acceleration is a function of public private engagement – such as via the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI).

CAAFI was formed in the USA in 2006 as a public private partnership of four key stakeholders – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) and Airlines for America (A4A). Each of these partners provides funding and resources to CAAFI. Importantly, the FAA contribution is in the form of funding for FTE positions within CAAFI and support FTE positions within the FAA itself. CAAFI has driven substantive work in the areas of: fuel certification and qualification; research and development; assessment of environmental impact and life cycle green house gas emissions of renewable aviation fuels; and business and economic case for deployment of renewable jet fuels in the market place.

More recent US Federal policy measures include minimum renewable fuel usage requirements, blending and production tax credits, an import tariff, loans and loan guarantees, and research grants. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is one of the more prominent policies. It requires that a minimum volume of biofuels be used in the national transportation fuel supply each year. Congress first established the RFS with the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct, P.L. 109-58). Two years later, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140) greatly expanded the reach of the policy and extended the date through to 2022. The expanded RFS (referred to as RFS2) requires annual use of EPA-stipulated volumes of advanced biofuels and a cap on the volume of ethanol derived from cornstarch.

In regard to renewable aviation fuels, the FAA fulfills many roles in driving industry forward. It plays an important coordinating role amongst government agencies and the private sector right across the supply chain. It provides important tools to enable analysis of environmental impacts, economic quantification and decision-making. It funds and fosters test and demonstration work to accelerate fuel technology development. The FAA has interagency partnerships, the major ones being with the Department of Energy, US Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Navy, Airforce, National Aeroanautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

The Department of Defense is also playing a policy leadership role in the development of the advanced biofuels industry through initiatives such as Farm to Fleet and the Great Green Fleet. The Secretary of the Navy has set 2020 goals for reduction of use of oil from fossil sources and increased uptake of oil from renewable sources. DOD is now using the DLA Energy bulk petroleum contracting process to begin large-scale, domestic, drop-in biofuels purchases for regular operational use.

The US Studies Centre has established strong relationships in the US with CAAFI, each of its stakeholders, with the Government departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense and the US Navy, and with the private companies that are developing and now beginning to deliver real results in the form of renewable aviation fuel in commercial quantities and at commercial price points.


Collaborative network

Dow collaborators

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