FAA teams with X PRIZE to develop alternative jet fuels

The Federal Aviation Administration this week took the bold step to enlist the folks at X PRIZE, the same outfit currently offering a $30 million prize to land a privately funded robotic craft on the Moon and a $10 million reward for researchers to build clean and super-efficient cars.

The FAA and the X PRIZE Foundation hope to inspire the private sector and a new generation of individuals on the need and practical solutions offered through alternative fuels and adaptive technologies in aviation, the FAA said.

The FAA said that over the next 14 months, the X PRIZE Foundation will consult with industry experts to develop a strategy to bring together the best minds in the aviation and science communities to solve the technical challenges and speed up the development and implementation of cost-effective renewable aviation fuels.  These will be environmentally friendly and won't have negative side effects, such as the displacement of food production or the inducement of land use changes that lead to additional greenhouse gas emissions, the group said.

 The X PRIZE Foundation will work with various organizations, including the private-sector and academic members of the FAA's Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative (CAAFI). In addition, the Foundation will define an implementation strategy that could lead to advances in environmentally friendly alternative aviation fuels and technologies that will ultimately accelerate their introduction at a faster pace than the market would normally provide. The strategy will facilitate discussions among industry and the government to identify prize sponsors and initiate the prize competition.

The FAA and X PRIZE Foundation expect that the competition will likely occur over three to eight years, taking into account the difficulty of the research. The FAA is hoping the marriage will emulate the Ansari X PRIZE which was awarded in 2004 after generating a 10-fold investment in research that fostered innovation and creativity in private-sector human suborbital space flight.

"The race to refuel American aviation is on and our hope is that the X PRIZE will jump-start investment and spur innovation," said Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. "It will be a competition that everyone wins, because a breakthrough in alternative jet fuels is a potential game-changer that could bring lower airline fuel costs, greater U.S. energy independence, and cleaner air."

Rising fuel costs for airlines is a hot topic that has boiled over in recent days.  United Airlines this week  joined with a host of other air carriers in an e-mail barrage to encourage their frequent fliers to write Congress and encourage it to act on what United called excessive, largely unchecked oil market speculation and manipulation.

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