ATW's 2010 Joseph S. Murphy Industry Service Award - CAAFI Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative


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CAAFI Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative  - Joseph S. Murphy Industry Service Award 2010

As the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight was being celebrated in late 2003, it was becoming increasingly clear that aviation's ability to grow and prosper in its second century would depend heavily on mitigating its environmental impact. In particular, the air transport industry was coming under intense scrutiny over its reliance on fossil-based jet fuel, which was seen widely as contributing to global warming. Paradoxically, few foresaw the possibility of developing greener alternative fuels in the near term.

Remarkably, that skepticism was overcome to such an extent that today airlines, aircraft manufacturers and engine suppliers all talk openly about alternative fuels playing an important role in powering commercial flights within the next 5-10 years. A large portion of the credit for this rapid transformation belongs to the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, a US-based cooperative effort launched in 2006 by airlines, airports, manufacturers and regulators to guide the development and deployment of alternative fuels for air transport.

Even as the wider world was paying scant attention to the prospects of alternative fuels powering aircraft, a cross-section of aviation leaders was beginning to realize in 2005 that "we were on the brink of moving the industry" to take the proposition seriously, CAAFI Executive Director Richard Altman says. There also was a growing sentiment within FAA that it needed to broaden its environmental focus to include exploring new energy sources.

In 2006 the agency joined with the US Air Transport Assn., Aerospace Industries Assn. and Airports Council International-North America to form CAAFI, bringing together a coalition of diverse stakeholder groups committed to working to make alternative aviation fuels a reality. CAAFI since has added approximately 300 nonsponsor participants from all over the world ranging from government officials to energy producers, university faculty and industry consultants.

The organization's aim is to function as a catalyst to facilitate the exchange of information about and coordination of private-sector and governmental initiatives supporting development and commercialization of fuels that can directly supplement or replace petroleum-derived jet fuels. To that end it already has secured highly significant achievements in its brief history.

Perhaps most importantly, CAAFI's work on certification and qualification led to approval last August of a new specification for alternative jet fuel by the ASTM International Committee on Petroleum Products and Lubricants. The specification likely will pave the way for near-term approval of sustainable plant-based biofuels as it is structured to accommodate different classes of alternative fuels when it is demonstrated that they meet relevant requirements.

In conjunction with the US Air Force, CAAFI also has created a "fuel readiness scale" that provides a "roadmap" for analyzing potential alternative fuels from concept through full-scale production, enabling development efforts to manage risk and maximize prospects for success.

The most visible fruits of CAAFI's efforts have been biofuel test flights conducted by Japan Airlines, Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand and KLM with key contributions by CAAFI participants Boeing and UOP Honeywell. Last December, CAAFI helped to foster another groundbreaking agreement when 15 US and non-US airlines committed to purchase up to 325 million gal. of alternative fuel including second-generation biojet and biodiesel.

Altman believes the key to CAAFI's success has been maintaining an openness to all potential alternative fuels that has kept the industry focused on exploring as many avenues as possible. "We are process and feedstock neutral," he explains. "We are not trying to pick winners . . . We just want to make sure we have as many opportunities to succeed as possible." For its ongoing effort to push aviation to keep imagining and working toward possible alternative solutions to make air transport more environmentally sustainable, CAAFI is a worthy recipient of the Joseph S. Murphy Industry Service Award, named for the magazine's founder.

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