Alaska Airlines makes first commercial flight using renewable jet fuel sourced from forestry waste
Alaska Airlines B737-800 refuelled with blended ATJ for Washington DC flight
Tue 15 Nov 2016 – The first-ever commercial flight to be powered by a blend of renewable jet fuel made from forest residuals was undertaken yesterday from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Washington DC. The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 used a 20% blend of ASTM-approved fuel produced by alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) company Gevo, whose technology was used to convert cellulosic sugars derived from wood waste into renewable isobutanol before further conversion into jet fuel. The forest residuals – the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests – was sourced from the Pacific Northwest. The alternative jet fuel flight was made possible by the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) initiative and supported by the US Department of Agriculture.
NARA is a five-year project that is nearing completion and funded by a $39.6 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) “to support research on biofuels and biochemical, foster regional supply chain coalitions, empower rural economic development and educate the public on the benefits of bioenergy”. It is comprised of 32 member organisations from industry, academia and government laboratories. In addition to producing 1,080 gallons of the renewable fuel for the Alaska Airlines flight from residual feedstock sourced from tribal lands and private forestry operations, other key tasks of the project included evaluating the economic, environmental, and societal benefits and impacts associated with harvesting unused forest residuals for biofuel production.
“This flight is a tribute to all of our NARA partners, and especially to NIFA who supported our mission to facilitate the revolutionary development of biojet and bioproduct industries in the Pacific Northwest using forest residuals that would otherwise become waste products,” said Ralph Cavalieri, NARA Executive Director.
“We are proud of every one of the partners and stakeholders – from forest managers to Gevo and Alaska Airlines – who have laid the foundations for a renewable fuel economy that will keep skies clear and healthy with the potential to bolster economically challenged timber-based rural communities in our regions.”
Alaska and Gevo have already partnered on commercial biofuel flights from Seattle to San Francisco and Washington DC in June this year that used a 20% ATJ blend derived from sustainable non-edible field corn grown in South Dakota (see article).
Alaska Airlines SVP Communications and External Relations, Joe Sprague, said the biofuel used on yesterday’s flight was “especially exciting since it is uniquely sourced from forest residuals in the Pacific Northwest.”
While it had only a minimal impact on its greenhouse gas emissions, the airline said if it were able to replace 20% of its entire fuel supply at Seattle-Tacoma, it would reduce CO2 emissions by about 142,000 tonnes per year.
“We are pleased that we had the opportunity to prove, through the NARA project, that cellulosic sugars from wood can be used to successfully make commercial jet fuel,” said Gevo CEO Pat Gruber.
Three members of the House of Representatives were on the flight, including Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. “This flight demonstrates that Washington state’s innovation economy is once again at the forefront of collaborative, transformative research by using material that would otherwise be discarded to create a new biofuel,” she said. “We have a tremendous opportunity in our region to build a new green economy and find innovative solutions to address climate change for our health and future generations, as this project highlights.”
Added US Senator for Washington, Maria Cantwell: “The flight comes after years of investments to help the aviation biofuels industry take off. By creating these sustainable biofuels, we will revitalise our rural agriculture communities, foster economic growth, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cur our dependence on foreign oil while growing our competitiveness in global markets.”