WSU wins big grant from FAA for bio-fuels research


by KING 5 News, Shawn Chitnis &

Posted on September 13, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 13 at 6:00 PM

PULLMAN, Wash. - The FAA announced a $40 million grant to Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to lead extensive research into more development of aviation bio fuels.

The grant is intended to establish a Center of Excellence, with both WSU and MIT leading a team of universities that also include the University of Washington, Oregon State, Boston University, Purdue, the University of Illinois, Stanford and eight others.

The goal is to make more environmentally friendly energy sources available to the industry at an affordable price.

"If we are to reduce our dependence on oil and our carbon footprint, this is the way to do it,” said WSU President Elson Floyd.

Boeing, Alaska Airlines, United and other aerospace and fuel companies have been experimenting with alternative fuels that range from the non-food camelina plant grown across the northern plains, to  other alternatives made  from algae to spent cooking oil used to fry chickens.

In its request for proposals, the universities are asked to develop fuel performance testing and examine the impact the use of alternatives fuels would have on aircraft noise and other impacts.

"This innovative partnership supports President Obama's national plan to address climate change," said  U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Airlines have expressed strong interest in alternative fuels as a way to shield themselves from volatile oil prices, as well as a way to reduce their carbon footprint.

In 2011, Alaska Airlines and its regional subsidiary Horizon Air conducted weeks of testing using fuel made from cooking oil on regularly schedules flights.

WSU and the UW have already been involved in bio fuel research.  Another alternative idea under study is using slash and other wood waste from Northwest forests.  That idea has been advanced in part as a way to make removal of volatile forest debris more economical and to hold down the risk of wild land fire.

The grant would provide $4 million a year for each of the 10 years the program would run and would be matched with private research dollars.