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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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Excuse my cynicism…
By cr82 on 7/12/2008 4:18:30 PM , Rating: 2
But seriously… 10, 20, 30 million $ incentives to developed technology like this. That’s enough to get you a handful of decent scientists/engineers for a few years, some half-rate equipment, and a couple guys running around begging for money from anyone willing to see them. I think the time has come to realize that whining about expensive oil and tossing nickels at the problem is not the solution. This, and some other problems for that matter, are going to take several billion $ and a lot of people to figure out in a reasonable timeframe. It’s time to pony up.




RE: Excuse my cynicism…
By Ringold on 7/12/2008 7:57:04 PM , Rating: 2
If that's all there was, a few million in prize money, you'd be right.

But it's not. A winner gets the prize money, the attention, and like what we saw with the original X-Prize, some times massive corporate deals. If this goes like how the X-Prize went, teams may end up spending much more money than they could recoup even if they did win. Even teams that didn't win have found some commercial success.

As in almost all cases with government, throwing more money at a problem isn't always either the answer or necessary. ;)


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