Alaska undertakes first commercial flights to use Gevo's newly-approved alcohol-to-jet renewable fuel
Alaska flight 388 from Seattle to San Francisco is fuelled with the Gevo ATJ blend
Fri 10 June 2016 – Two Alaska Airlines flights departed Seattle for San Francisco and Washington DC on Tuesday fuelled by a 20% blend of Gevo’s renewable alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel, the first commercial flights to use the fuel since it was approved by fuel standards body ASTM International in April. Around 1,500 gallons of renewable fuel was used on the flights and was derived from sustainable non-edible field corn grown in South Dakota. Alaska estimates the blend used for the two flights reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. The use of such fuels is part of a long-term commitment to its sustainability strategy, says the airline, and in November 2011 became the first US carrier to fly multiple commercial passenger flights – 75 in all – using biofuel from used cooking oil.
Gevo’s ATJ fuel is the first biofuel produced from a new feedstock to be certified and approved by ASTM since 2011. The company’s production process converts bio-based isobutanol into what is technically termed an alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) fuel and is certified for blends up to 30%.
“Flying a commercial flight with our ATJ made from renewable resources has been a vision of ours for many years, and it has taken many years of work to get this far,” said Gevo CEO Pat Gruber. “We believe our technology has the potential to be the lowest cost, renewable carbon-based jet fuel, given the efficacy of our technology. We look forward to moving forward with Alaska, and others in the airline industry, to make renewable jet fuel widely successful as a product that substitutes for fossil fuels, and ultimately helps to reduce carbon emissions.”
Alaska said the fuel for the flights was made from corn grown and harvested by farmers who incorporate sustainable best practices from seed to harvest, including David Kolsrud of The Funding Farm. Using advanced farming techniques to maximise corn production and minimise the use of water, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, Kolsrud began low-carbon farming in Brandon, South Dakota in 2010.
“I grow non-edible field corn and sell it to Gevo, which separates the nutritional protein portion of the corn for animal feed and then converts the starch from the kernel to isobutanol, which is then converted to jet fuel,” explained Kolsrud. “This practice is a game-changer for traditional farmers like me, as this allows us to extend the use of our crop and create jobs that frankly didn’t exist six years ago.”
Gevo says one acre of corn can produce 300 gallons of jet fuel and two tons of high-value, high-protein animal feed. The company produced the isobutanol at its bioprocessing facility in Luverne, MN, which was then shipped by rail to a facility in Silsbee, TX, where it was converted to renewable jet fuel.
A San Francisco-based news site reports that Alaska paid around $27 per gallon for the Gevo fuel, which compares to $1.50 per gallon for conventional jet fuel. However, Gevo believes it can bring the price down to about $3 per gallon once full production of its fuel is reached and could be below the conventional fuel price by the early 2020s.
Alaska is also collaborating with the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) to advance the production of alternative jet fuels from forest residuals that remain after forest harvesting. The airline is expecting further demonstration sustainable biofuel flights to take place over the coming months using 1,000 gallons of Gevo’s ATJ being produced by the NARA team and its many partners.
Alaska aims to be using sustainable aviation biofuel on all flights at one or more of its primary airports by 2020 and to this end is working with Boeing and the Port of Seattle on a Biofuel Infrastructure Feasibility Study for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that is assessing costs and infrastructure necessary to deliver significant quantities of a blend of aviation biofuel and conventional jet fuel to aircraft serving the airport. If it was able to replace 20% of its entire fuel supply at Sea-Tac with sustainable biofuels, the airline estimates it would reduce CO2 emissions by around 142,000 tonnes.
“Alaska is committed to doing its part to reduce its carbon emissions. Advancing the use of alternative jet fuels is a key part of our emission reduction strategy,” said Joseph Sprague, the airline’s SVP Communications and External Relations. “Gevo’s jet fuel product is a significant step forward in that it has the potential to be scalable and cost-effective, without sacrificing performance.”