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Alaska Airlines biofuel

How to Reduce Aviation Emissions, On the Ground and In the Sky

Alaska Airlines biofuelThe number of commercial airplanes in service is projected to nearly double by 2030. At the same time, international agreements and individual countries’ laws require the aviation industry to reduce carbon emissions.

Advances in biofuel infrastructure and ground-based operations can help the aviation industry comply with strict emissions limits and save money on fuel, according to two new studies.

One study, released by Boeing, Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle, identifies the best infrastructure options for delivering aviation biofuel to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The airport has set a goal to power every flight at Sea-Tac with sustainable aviation biofuel, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to fossil fuel, and says it is among the first airports in North America to work with aviation, energy and research partners to evaluate all aspects to developing a commercial-scale program from scratch.

Biofuels will be key to achieving the aviation industry’s pledge to cut CO2 emissions to 0.2 billion tons (GT) in 2050 — half the 2005 figure — as opposed to the 2.1 GT projected by current growth rates, according to Lux Research.

The Sea-Tac study evaluated more than 30 sites around Washington State that could potentially support the receipt, blending, storage, and delivery infrastructure required to supply Sea-Tac Airport with up to 50 million gallons per year of sustainable aviation biofuel. Potential sites were evaluated both for the ability to accommodate near-term (12-18 months) supplies of 5 million gallons per year and long-term (2-10 years) supplies of more than 50 million gallons per year.

It found:

  • A small biofuel receiving and blending facility at the Sea-Tac Airport Fuel Farm is the most cost-effective solution in the short term;
  • The Anacortes-area refineries are the most cost-effective options for large volumes of aviation biofuel over the long term due to their access to marine, rail, truck, and the Olympic Pipeline; and
  • The Phillips 66/Olympic Pipeline Company sites in Renton also showed potential to accommodate receipt and blending facilities for moderate-to-large biofuel volumes over the long term.

“Commercial aviation is committed to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint, and biofuels are key to achieving that goal,” said Ellie Wood, regional director of environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We’re encouraged that this study shows the viability of making a biofuel blend available to every flight at Sea-Tac Airport.”

Another study, this one by United Technologies Corporation, says efforts being made “on the ground” will also play a major role in helping the aviation industry met its aggressive carbon goals.

This includes technology advances such as additive manufacturing — or 3D prining — that can reduce a part’s “buy-to-fly” ratio by 90 percent, along with nanomaterials that allow for weight reduction and better performance, writes UTC chief sustainability officer John Mandyck in a blog post about the new study.

He says carbon neutral airports will also improve the industry’s emissions performance: “At San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2, for example, performance enhancements included high-performance glazing, on-site solar power, low-flow fixtures for water conservation, and the diversion of more than 90 percent of construction waste from landfills. The terminal is the world’s first to be certified LEED Platinum.”

And last summer, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport became the first carbon neutral airport in North America by switching to renewable energy sources and converting its bus fleet to compressed natural gas vehicles, among other low-carbon initiatives.

Additionally, aerospace factories that focus on more efficient operations, new production technologies and sustainable supply chains will also advance the industry’s long-term sustainability, Mandyck writes, citing UTC’s success in reducing greenhouse gasses 34 percent and water use 57 percent while tripling revenues over the last 20 years.

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