Washington State University has been selected to co-lead a consortium of researchers that will develop new biofuels for jetliners.

The Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment includes 14 university partners and more than 50 industry and national laboratory partners, according to WSU. The designation means up to $40 million in funding over the next decade.

The center will develop alternative fuels and address the impact of the aviation industry on the environment.

Ralph Cavalieri, associate vice president of alternative energy for the university, said the designation is recognition of WSU’s leadership.

“It documents the breadth and depth of expertise WSU was able to bring to the application along with its collaborators,” Cavalieri said.

At a December meeting, the group will identify research priorities, Cavalieri said.

The center will not be a building, but a collection of institutions and researchers working together.

The project has a 10-year timeline. Cavalieri said the new center is a redefinition of an expiring center of excellence based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is a co-leader of the new center.

WSU will hire a faculty member to work in an administrative office in the Tri-Cities.

Researchers will study several options for biofuel feedstock sources, including some agricultural sources. Cavalieri said the aviation industry has stressed that biofuel sources should not compete with agricultural production of food.

Marginal lands, low-input crops or rotation crops could be used as sources for biofuels, Cavalieri said. A brassica crop like camelina with deep roots would help benefit soil quality, he noted.

Poplars and forest slash piles could also be a possible source for biofuels. Enough slash exists in the Pacific Northwest to support the aviation fuel demand in the region, Cavalieri said.

The center is significant for Washington state, Cavalieri said.

“It’s really important to us that we as a land-grant university be working in this area to help support the aviation economy of our state,” he said. “It definitely makes sense for WSU to do it, with our history in agriculture and our history in engineering. They come together very nicely.”


Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter

Recommended for you