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The U.S. Department of Transportation is hoping to excite interest in biofuels to help the ailing airline industry

While there is much discord in the international community about how to deal with it, the leaders of the world's industrialized nations, including the U.S., have vowed to fight global warming.  Also at stake are the other issues surrounding reliance on an oil economy -- dealing with politically unstable regions, suffering economically under painfully high prices, dealing with finite supplies, and sending wealth overseas.

All of these culminate in a strong desire here in the U.S. to reduce reliance on foreign oil.  The U.S. Department of Energy is hoping to do its part by sponsoring a $20M USD prize for LED lighting research to lower the consumer energy load.  Now the Department of Transportation (DOT) is pushing to launch a similar initiative for airline biofuels.

The airline industry is facing insolvency due to the soaring cost of fuel, which has been shown to hit America particularly hard to the nation's obesity (a 2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicated that Americans increasing weight led to a rise in fuel cost of $275M USD in the year 2000 alone).

Some private efforts, such as billionaire Richard Bransen's efforts with Virgin Airlines, have wet their feet a bit with biofuels or other oil alternatives like hydrogen, but little progress has been made.  The DOT, along with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is granting $500,000 to the X Prize Foundation to create a new prize for developing alternative fuels or technologies.

The foundation hopes the final prize will amount to over $10 million once it can secure a private sponsor.  U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced the move Thursday, stating, "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."

The new prize corresponds with the FAA's new Next Generation air traffic modernization program, "NextGen".  The growth program hopes to double air traffic by 2025, while keeping carbon emissions constant, by adopting new fuels or more efficient designs.

The move has been long coming.  The X Prize Foundation has been in talks with the DOT and FAA since the 90s.  After analyzing industry alternatives, the DOT and FAA finally decided that the X Prize was the best way to stimulate development.  The grant is among the first from a government organization to the X Prize Foundation.

Over the next 14 months ,the X Prize Foundation will set up the aviation prize rules based on input from a panel of industry experts.  It will also try to secure private sponsors.  It hopes to launch the competition by 2011 and find a winner by 2016. 

Jason Morgan, senior director of prize development at the X Prize Foundation states about the new prize, "With all the discussion about global warming, the increasing cost of oil, and the increasing congestion everyone's feeling at the airport, we need to do something dramatic about it and we think it's the contest model."

The X Prize Foundation is a nonprofit group.  It currently has many prizes seeking to advance humanity, including the $10 million Archon X Prize for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize for energy-efficient vehicles.

The Department of Energy previously granted $3.5M USD to the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize.



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RE: Funny
By livelouddiefast on 7/12/2008 9:32:45 AM , Rating: 3
I think it'd be an awesome idea to charge people based on how much total weight they're carrying. Set a cap of like 250 lbs included on the ticket for person + baggage and then charge extra for every bit over that.

Problem lies in the fact that the people who would have to pay would whine (read: sue) AND more importantly, it would only be effective if every airline put it into place at the same time. They aren't allowed to confer on such matters so I don't see it happening anytime soon- though airlines are consolidating so maybe...

When they talk of larger people using more gas for the sake of being more for an engine to carry- do they include the gas that those people use to go places compared to healthier folks walking/riding their bikes? Seems to me especially in city life this could be a huge deal.


RE: Funny
By icrf on 7/12/2008 9:40:42 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think you could set a limit of 250 lbs, because then you're discriminating against heavier people. If everyone has a base price of a ticket, then extra per pound of person and luggage, that'd work better. Skinny people can pack heavy and be worse than the tubby guy with the tiny carry-on.

When do you weigh people? When they buy a ticket? Charge extra when they get their boarding pass? Guess you can't do any of that electronically anymore.


RE: Funny
By icrf on 7/12/2008 9:42:41 AM , Rating: 2
Also, it might be less offensive if you put the passenger on the scale along with their luggage at the same time. Then when it ticks off 320 lbs, they have the "I must have packed my lead underoos" excuse.


RE: Funny
By livelouddiefast on 7/12/2008 11:12:54 AM , Rating: 2
tough call. measure both weight AND overall size? maybe move the security checkpoints before check in (weigh luggage and person there)? either way i can't see how it would happen.

and then put tubby people 3 to the aisle to teach them a lesson :)

another thing- this has the potential to be even worse for burning fossil fuels as the fat people would resort to driving which, as i recall, is MUCH less eco-friendly than flying 200 people in a plane.


RE: Funny
By JoshuaBuss on 7/13/2008 4:15:39 PM , Rating: 2
keep in mind.. some people weigh 250 or more and aren't really 'overweight', they're just huge people. there's certainly something wrong with charging them more.


"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher














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