Global challenges, local opportunities

Michael Lakeman

As Boeing’s leader of biofuel strategy in the vast Asia Pacific region, Michael Lakeman tries to find consensus among an equally vast array of stakeholders, from farmers to government regulators. “It’s like a multilayered jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are constantly changing shape,” said Lakeman, Associate Technical Fellow and biofuel regional director for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“I try to fit all the pieces together to find the ‘sweet spot’ in our biofuel strategy — the right thing to do for Boeing, our customers, the aviation industry and the environment. It’s the fun part of the job for me.”

Boeing is a global leader in the research and development of sustainable aviation biofuel. The company’s role is as an industry catalyst and facilitator, Lakeman said. “We’re an enabler; we bring people together and make sure all the right people are at the table.”

A key component of Boeing’s strategy is to build consensus among stakeholders at the local and regional levels and develop a “road map” that outlines the steps needed to build a biofuel industry. “The road map is a very detailed bottom-up look at how we could build a biofuel supply chain in a specific location,” Lakeman said.

The road map looks at potential feedstocks and other natural resources, economic conditions and regulations. “It’s the best way we’ve found to align groups with sometimes very different backgrounds around a strategy. We invite people who have concerns or ideas into a dialog so they feel included and their voices are heard.”

The company’s first regional road map process was in Australasia and was followed by other sustainable biofuel “firsts” in Asia Pacific, Lakeman said. The first airline to use a drop-in biofuel blend on a commercial flight was Air New Zealand.

The Australasian road map involved airline customers, major scientific research groups and Australia’s defense organization. The process produced a series of recommendations, many of which were accepted by the national government and other stakeholders.

An example of a local opportunity for a sustainable biofuel supply chain is in the Australian state of Queensland. Boeing and its research partners studied an area of dry, unproductive land used mostly for cattle grazing.

“Farmers there have a challenge. They need to clear the land of native trees and shrubs, and end up burning the biomass in the field and it goes to waste,” Lakeman said. “Why don’t we harvest the biomass and turn it into biofuel and support the local economy?”

Lakeman said the Queensland government and the Australian defense research organization are supportive, and next steps include developing a detailed business plan and biomass production system.

The Australian road map was so successful that the strategy has been replicated around the world, including in Brazil, Mexico and the United States, with a road map process also being planned in Japan, Lakeman said.

The opportunities for a sustainable biofuel industry in Asia Pacific are part of the work’s appeal for Lakeman. “It’s an exciting region full of economic growth with a dynamic culture and people who are smart and optimistic,” Lakeman said. “Working with great people who are as passionate about this as I am is what I find most satisfying about my job.”