By Katherine Preston
If you read the title of this session and scratched your heads in confusion, allow me to explain. Surely everyone recalls the 2004 rap hit single by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell, “Drop it Like it’s Hot” (despite Snoop’s immense popularity, this was actually his first number one on the Billboard chart, where it remained at the top for several weeks). The song title made me think of one of my other favorite subjects, alternative aviation biofuels. Alternative jet fuel can be made from renewable biomass as a completely drop-in replacement for conventional jet fuel, and of course it burns, and is thus pretty ‘hot’.
Other than a clever reference to a song title, how else are rap and aviation biofuels alike? Think about the reaction of the music “establishment” to the genesis of rap. Dismissed as nothing more than a fleeting fad, no one thought it would ever catch on outside of New York City. But catch on it did, and filled a void in the music world. Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” broke the Billboard top 40 back in 1979 (I wasn’t even born yet and I still know the lyrics!). Rap and hip-hop exploded in the 1990s and is a now world-wide phenomenon. Just take a look at iTunes best sellers and the popularity of the genre is pretty evident.
Aviation biofuels have similarly been dismissed as being a green fad that will never replace traditional fossil fuels (they cost too much, there’s no way biofuels can meet industry need, the technology isn’t there, algae is at least a decade away, etc.). And yet there is a ground-swell of support for their development within the aviation industry as an alternative to the “establishment.” Traditional jet fuel made from fossil fuels is subject to fickle economic forces and political disputes, in addition to being a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
In contrast, fuel crops (such as camelina and algae) can be grown in the U.S. and Canada, which will relieve some of the reliance upon fossil fuels and the accompanying wild price swings, while at the same time significantly reducing the aviation industry’s greenhouse emissions. Recognizing that nothing is a perfect solution, biofuels have the potential to fill the need for clean, stable, renewable jet fuel. These attributes and more were discussed during the alternative fuels panel this afternoon.
Reg Milley, President and CEO of Edmonton International Airport moderated the distinguished panel, which included speakers Phil Ralston of Portland International Airport, Bruno Miller of Metron Aviation, and Todd Ellis of Imperium Renewables. The panel did a great job of describing the exciting developments in the biofuels arena and gave some great perspective on the role of airports.
Speaking from experience, Phil talked about Portland’s involvement in the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest initiative, which brought together biofuels producers, airframe and engine manufacturers, airports, airlines and academia. As Phil pointed out, airports are the face of the aviation industry to their communities and are a natural stakeholder in the development of the biofuels industry. Clearly, what’s good for the industry is good for airports, so it’s important that airports be an educated and engaged partner in the process.
Todd Ellis followed Phil with an interesting discussion on production methods and processes, and what is needed to get to commercial scale. Bruno Miller was able to tie everything together and really focus on airports’ role in the supply chain. Overall a very informative and optimistic look at the immense opportunities that alternative aviation biofuels present.
Biofuels, they’re the future…so get ready to drop ‘em (in) like they’re hot.
(If this blog post has enticed you to view the music video of “drop it like it’s hot” on YouTube…just be sure to select the “clean” version before playing it at work!!”)