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Boeing, Alaska Air Press for Biofuel Research

Oilseed, forest residues, municipal solid waste and algae are all promising feedstocks for the future of aviation, according to an industry research initiative that includes Boeing and Alaska Airlines.

A report out last week from Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest said that no single technology is likely to provide enough sustainable fuel to meet the organization’s goals. The group wants to see the aviation industry achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2020, and says that diverse research and development will be needed to get there.

The report, Powering the Next Generation of Flight (pdf), said that recommended techniques to convert the feedstock to fuel include hydroprocessing as well as technologies that use heat, chemicals and microorganisms to process woody biomass into fuels and chemicals.

For each feedstock, the SAFN report identifies a proposed action plan to help overcome key commercial and sustainability challenges and speed fuel production.

SAFN was launched in July last year with the aim of exploring the opportunities and challenges surrounding the production of sustainable aviation fuels. Its members include the region’s three largest airports – the Port of Seattle, Port of Portland and Spokane International Airport – as well as Washington State University, a center for advanced biofuels research.

Stakeholders include the Air Transport Association, the U.S. departments of agriculture, energy and defense, Weyerhouser and Honeywell subsidiary UOP.

The report noted that aviation does not have the same array of energy alternatives as other sectors, such as ground transportation, heating and electricity generation. These three sectors place the biggest current demands on biomass, the report said, but aviation has the clearest need for liquid, energy-dense fuels.

SAFN said that supportive government policies are critical to jump-start the industry, attract investment and accelerate growth. Support for aviation biofuels should be at least equal to policies supporting other transport and energy sectors, the report said.

In particular, the report recommended that government agencies including the military be able to enter into long-term contracts for advanced fuels, and that the government expand biofuel incentives including the Biorefinery Assistance Program, excise tax incentives and measures included under the Farm Bill, ensuring that aviation fuels qualify for these incentives. Aviation fuel should also qualify under the Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) program, allowing producers of such fuels to earn valuable market-based credits, the report said, and regional research institutions should get priority for their biofuel research efforts.

The Northwest is especially well positioned to play a leading role in the aviation biomass industry because of its strong local companies, concentrated demand, leading expertise and significant biomass resources, the report said (see map, above).

Boeing has said that biofuels will be essential to the company meeting its carbon-neutrality goals. The company, together with airline carriers, has been testing new biofuels since 2008 as a way to increase fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, Airbus parent EADS has started research into using algae for jet fuel and debuted the first aircraft to be powered solely by algae.

Earlier this month, a GE Aviation study said that airlines could save at least $65.6 million annually while cutting carbon emissions and flight times by implementing new flight paths at 46 mid-size airports across the U.S.

The aviation sector will be the second-largest in Europe’s carbon trading system when the industry joins the market next year, the European Commission (EC) has said.

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4 thoughts on “Boeing, Alaska Air Press for Biofuel Research

  1. All I can say is that this is nothing but CRAP. I have yet to see a study that proves that the minute amount of lead used by the GA fleet causes harm to anyone. It’s nothing but junk science. I have cut back considerably on my flying because of the cost of fuel and this will only cause fuel to go higher. We are 5% of the worlds population and what makes us think that we are going to save the planet when the rest of the world belches out polution unchecked. The environmental movement is today’s nazi-ism. It is anti-freedom and anti progress and will bring this country to its knees!

  2. I would agree with most of the conclusion stated by Mr. Mallard. I have not read the subject report from Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest but if the summary is accurate, the major premise of the organization is based on the AGW Myth! The contribution to global warming from burning hydrocarbon fuels is insignificant compared to all of the other natural factors involved, namely solar cycles, et al. There is absolutely no proven driver to become “carbon neutral” by any near term time frame and no need to throw more government money at it to achieve it, IMHO. Alternative fuels should be able to stand on their own economic basis, and current fuel prices should certainly provide sufficient incentive for their development without the intervention of the government. Bring on the algae (and other) based fuels. They have already been proven for diesel and turbine applications.

  3. Awesome article! Great that aviation continues to push the creative spirit and entrepreneurial nature of the needs of our field forward. Keep us flying in new and creative craft with energy efficient and sustainable fuels!

  4. Thank you, J. Early. Meanwhile, Mr. Cook, you may consider human-caused climate change a myth. But more serious people than you do not, namely the people who run airlines, and the Boeing Company. The industry has adopted goals for carbon-neutrality. In terms of supporting new industries, government support provided early and vital boosts to aviation, computers, and advanced telecommunications, not to mention the transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. Fuels to replace petroleum will be the same story, and the military is very interested for national security reasons. Mr. Mallard, before tossing around terms like “junk science” and “nazi-ism,” perhaps you might go and read the report. You might find this is part of an international initiative, and that the airline industry wants an alternative to petroleum as a way to hedge rising costs. Ah, but expecting people to think before they react is perhaps too much to ask nowadays.

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