Alaska Air prepares for a series of used cooking oil biofuel flights using Boeing and Bombardier aircraft
Tue 8 Nov 2011 – Alaska Airlines and sister carrier Horizon Air will tomorrow start a series of 75 biofuel-powered commercial flights over the next few weeks from Seattle to Washington DC and Portland. The flights will use a 20/80 blend of used cooking oil and jet kerosene that is being supplied by Dutch-based SkyNRG and produced by Dynamic Fuels at its Louisiana plant. The biofuel source is the same that has been used for sustainable biofuel flights carried out by KLM, Finnair, Thomson Airways and Air France in Europe since so-called HEFA fuels were certified for commercial aviation use in July. Tomorrow’s flights will involve a Boeing 737 Alaska Airlines flight to Washington DC and the other a Horizon Air trip to Portland that will mark the first commercial biofuel flight of a Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft.
With United Airlines yesterday carrying out the first commercial biofuel flight in the United States, Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer described this week as a historic one for US aviation.
“The 75 flights reflect our longstanding commitment to environmental responsibility and our belief that sustainable biofuels are key to aviation’s future,” he said. “Commercial airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels. They will enable us to fly cleaner, foster job growth in a new industry and can insulate airlines from the volatile price swings of conventional fuel to help make air travel more economical.
“What we need is an adequate, affordable and sustainable supply. To the biofuels industry, we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”
As well as raising the awareness of alternative commercial aviation fuel, the flights have been selected to demonstrate the use of biofuel on a transcontinental route as well as on a shorter journey.
The airline group estimates the 20% blend will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% over the 75 flights, amounting to 134 tonnes. If the blend was to be used on all of its flights then savings would amount to an annual 330,000 tonnes.
The Horizon Air flight is an important milestone for Canadian regional aircraft manufacturer Bombardier. “Tomorrow’s fuels are ready to be used in today’s airplanes and that’s an important step forward,” said Philippe Poutissou, Vice President of Marketing for Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. “Our industry already designs aircraft that reduce the environmental footprint. We continue to strive for sustainable solutions and greener skies.”
The Alaska/Horizon flights also mark the debut of ‘one-stop shop’ sustainable jet fuel supplier SkyNRG into the North American market, where it is partnering with EPIC Aviation, a major aviation fuel supplier with a supply network throughout the US and Canada.
“We have tried to make the entry barrier for airlines to embrace this new fuel era as low as possible,” said SkyNRG Managing Director Dirk Kronemeijer. “Being selected as supplier for Alaska Airlines proves that we are on the right track to help create this industry in North America together with our great partner EPIC Aviation. “As from today we are open for any request for sustainable jet fuel out of more than 400 airport locations in North America.”
Commented David Zanussi, Vice President Commercial Sales at EPIC: “We’re proud to have been a part of a new aspect of the aviation fuel market and look forward to working together with SkyNRG to serve US and Canadian customers seeking to use sustainable jet fuel now and in the future.”
Dynamic Fuels is a joint venture of Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corporation, and the company’s Geismar plant is designed to convert non-food feedstocks such as animal fats, greases and used cooking oils into renewable fuels. The facility uses Syntroleum’s Bio-Synfining technology and has the capacity to produce up to 75 million gallons of fuel per year. Dynamic Fuels says its fuel is chemically identical to traditional jet fuel and claims it offers the benefits of higher energy content; better cold flow properties, enabling it to function effectively in cold weather; and reduced CO2 emissions.
“The next generation of high performance biofuel technology is here and we’re hopeful others will join the efforts of Alaska Airlines and other airlines to generate more public support for biofuel production,” said Dynamic Fuels’ Bob Ames.
“Advanced biofuels can be an economic driver in creating good jobs and a vital part of America’s long-term energy security. However, government policies supporting development are essential to ensure that the aviation biofuels industry reaches its full potential and is able to compete against foreign petroleum.”
A member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, Alaska Airlines has been active in pursuing the potential of aviation biofuels for some time. In December 2009, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding along with a group of other airlines to negotiate a future purchase of camelina-derived renewable jet fuel from Seattle-based AltAir Fuels (see story). This June, Alaska Airlines, along with nine other carriers, signed Letters of Intent with Solena to negotiate the purchase of jet fuels produced from urban and agricultural waste at a proposed northern California facility (see story).
The airline is also a partner in the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) initiative launched in 2010 to explore the feasibility, challenges and opportunities for creating an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest (see story). A report published this May concluded that developing a sustainable biofuels industry would result in significant job creation and tax revenues, provide leadership in an emerging global industry and substantially reduce financial outflows from the region to pay for imported petroleum.
Seattle is, of course, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which could well be considered to have pioneered the development of sustainable aviation biofuels.
“Aviation clearly needs a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels,” said its Vice President of Environment and Aviation Policy, Billy Glover. “In the US and around the world, the industry is doing all it can to support sustainable biofuel development and maintain aviation’s role in global economic growth. To make that happen we must develop regional supply chains, and that takes supportive government policies that encourage investment in the early stages of this emerging sector.”