The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), part of the US Department of Transportation (DOT), has issued a Broad Agency Announcement seeking research that would help it determine the best methods to drive the development of alternative aviation fuel technology. Options could include a technology prize along the lines of the Ansari X Prize.
The US Federal Government is developing a broad US aviation system upgrade plan called NEXTGEN to accommodate an expected tripling of US air traffic by the year 2025. NEXTGEN seeks to improve aviation industry efficiency from the engine to the cockpit to overall air traffic management. The FAA’s Office of Environment and Energy (AEE) has determined that two main research initiatives under its purview will contribute to the success of NEXTGEN: 1) improvements in aviation fuel-burn modeling; and 2) alternative aviation fuel technology development.
While FAA/AEE efforts to drive the first research initiative—fuel-burn modeling improvements—have mostly focused on the incentive method of Subject-Specific White Papers (SSWP) and science meetings to get results to date, NEXTGEN project managers at FAA/AEE and the Volpe Center are not certain this is the most practical way to pursue the second research initiative and drive the development of alternative aviation fuel technology.
The Volpe Center is inviting the submission of proposals for studies that will determine the best option for incentivizing the development of alternative aviation fuel technology. The studies must present a detailed investigation of the option, culminating in a research roadmap that brings the best minds in the aviation and science communities together to solve this technical problem and how to speed up, to the greatest extent possible, the process of finding a viable technology that will provide a non-fossil alternative aviation fuel.
Research projects may vary in size and scope, but should have a tentative budget target of $25,000 to $500,000 and must be completed within 14 months.
Each Proposed study is to consider only one of the following three options:
SSWPs. In this method, spanning a few months, the SSWP writers are recruited from as large a pool of experts as possible in the technical area being addressed, draft papers are written according to a specific set of topics, papers are distributed, a science meeting is called to consider final papers, and the best plan for resolving the problem is identified. Within a few years of the first call for SSWPs, results may be received.
The Volpe Center is looking for specific analysis on the likelihood of the SSWP method to gain the interest of other Government agencies, academia, aircraft manufacturers, aviation fuel manufacturers, and the public.
Prize Incentives. The format of a prize competition such as the Ansari X Prize for space travel offers opportunities to generate huge technological breakthroughs by attracting diverse competitors and rewarding real outcomes, according to the Volpe Center.
This format defines the problem, not the path to the solution, and encourages innovation. It also captures the Public's imagination and accelerates the pace of change. Experience has shown that the resulting advances in human behavior, industry transformation, and changes in public perception far exceed the value of the purse.
Contractors exploring this route will need to assess its viability to the development of alternative aviation fuel technology.
Other options. Consideration of other options includes the identification of the advantages, if any, to the Government taking no incentive action in this area of alternative aviation fuel technology development.