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Alaska Airlines, Boeing, and Others Create Regional Sustainable Biofuels Initiative

Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University have created an initiative to promote aviation biofuel development in the Pacific Northwest. The “Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest” project will look at biomass options to jet fuel within a four-state area as a way to reduce their carbon footprint.

Biomass sources used as aviation biofuel could potentially save millions of tons of aviation greenhouse gas emissions, according to the group. Currently, air travel generates approximately 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, and the industry has set aggressive goals to lower its carbon footprint, including the use of aviation biofuel when it becomes available, say the organizations.

Touted as the first regional assessment of its kind in the U.S., the initiative will examine all phases of developing a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. It will include an analysis of potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina, wood byproducts and others.

Boeing, together with airline carriers, has been testing new biofuels since 2008 as a way to increase fuel efficiency.

EADS, parent company of Airbus, also has started research into using algae for jet fuel and debuted the first aircraft, a twin engine Diamond DA42, to be powered solely by algae in June.

The Pacific Northwest project is jointly funded by the participating organizations and is expected to be completed in approximately six months.

The assessment process will be managed by Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based environmental nonprofit organization, which will align the effort to sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. The project objective is to identify the activities needed to make aviation biofuel commercially available to airline operators serving the region.

The kickoff meeting in July will be followed by additional meetings throughout the assessment process. Attendees will include biomass producers, refiners, airport operators, environmental and government organizations, airlines, academic representatives. Topics to be addressed include scale, commercial viability and environmental considerations.

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3 thoughts on “Alaska Airlines, Boeing, and Others Create Regional Sustainable Biofuels Initiative

  1. I’m still concerned at the volumes of materials required to make the slightest impact on aviation emissions. There is always the question of competing requirements, productive land required to grow the various crop types to make the alternate fuel in the first place, which would otherwise be used for food production. In fact, a study carried out on Virgin Airlines showed that to provide the raw materials needed to produce enough bio-based fuel for their flights would require all of the UK’s productive land. I’m not suggesting it’s not worth pursuing, just that I don’t see how this will have any major impact at all, especially given the number of flights is set to increase by around 6% by 2012. That alone would massively overshadow any increase in fuel efficiency. I don’t know what the answer is myself, I just know that it can’t be related to existing productive land, we’re going to need every bit of food we can get as the population continues to increase. It’s also interesting, as a side note, to see that some of the efficiency claims made by ‘cheap’ airlines are based on CO2 per passenger, which is based on the increased number of people they cram onto flights. The flights themselves are no more efficient, there’s just more people to spread the emissions around.

  2. Boeing presumably hasn’t been testing biofuels to increase fuel efficiency, but to reduce the Carbon foot print of aviation (although any increase in efficiency will also reduce its CO2 output).

    @ Michael,
    You are correct that the cheap airlines have been using CO2/passenger, and claiming that as lowering their footprint, rather than reducing the amount of CO2 in total, or CO2 per plane, it has spurred the other airlines to increase their efficiencies by using fewer flights to carry people. However, your point that it makes for more people flying and thus negating other improvements is also true, unfortunately.

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