Initiative formed to assess viability of creating a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest
Tue 13 July 2010 – The Pacific Northwest could become a global hub for the development of aviation biofuels following the announcement of a strategic initiative by local aviation interests. Three airports – Seattle-Tacoma International, Spokane International and Portland International – as well as Alaska Airlines and Seattle-based Boeing, have agreed to fund a four-state regional assessment to look at biomass options and possible sources for creating renewable jet fuel. The six-month ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest’ project will look at all phases of developing an aviation biofuels industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. Camelina, grown on the Montana plains, has already been successfully trialled and shown to have promise as a viable, long-term aviation biofuel source.
The assessment will also include an analysis of other potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the region, including algae, wood by-products and others.
The project will begin officially on July 27 and address issues such as scale, commercial viability and environmental considerations. As well as representatives from the aviation industry, the group will consist of biomass producers, refiners, environmental and governmental organizations, and Washington State University. The objective is to identify potential pathways and necessary actions to make aviation biofuel commercially available to airline operators serving the region.
The assessment process will be managed by Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based environmental non-profit organization, who will ensure adherence to the sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels that is being followed by the aviation industry.
“The Pacific Northwest is a global gateway for people, cultures and commerce, and aviation is a vital contributor to that process,” commented Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Developing a sustainable aviation fuel supply now is a top priority both to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity at regional levels, and to support the broader aim of achieving carbon-neutral growth across the industry by 2020.”
John Gardner, Vice President of Economic Development and Global Engagement at Washington State University (WSU), said: “This really is an exciting development from both the economic impact to the Northwest, but also to the advancement of clean fuel technologies worldwide.”
Washington State University is recognized as one of the leading institutions in the world for its research and discovery work in biofuels.
“WSU scientists are already working on overcoming the obstacles standing in the way of efficiently using biomass to make bio-aviation fuel,” said Ralph Cavalieri, Director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center.
WSU’s Professor Norman G. Lewis is working on how best to break down the lignin in woody biomass – such as forest byproducts – to make it more easily convertible to fuel. Researcher Shulin Chen’s lab is focusing on developing energy-rich algae, the technology to grow them all year, and a way to convert them into fuel and other products. Plant pathologist Scott Hulbert is working on making oilseeds such as camelina and canola viable agricultural crops, while WSU faculty at the Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) at WSU Tri-Cities and Pullman are collaborating with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on improved methods of catalytic conversion to liquid fuels.
“Washington State University is uniquely poised to tackle this project,” said Gardner. “It’s critical that understanding and policy keep pace with the science and technology as we shape this next era of biofuels that we are convinced will be sustainable.”
Last December, Alaska Airlines signed a forward purchase agreement with Seattle-based AltAir Fuels for future supplies of camelina-based jet biofuel that AltAir aims to produce at a new facility in Washington state (see story). The facility, due to begin operations in 2012, is expected to have a capacity of 100 million gallons of fuel per year and would replace around 10% of all fuel consumed at Seattle-Tacoma International. The camelina oil will be sourced from Montana-based Sustainable Oils, which has the largest camelina research programme in North America and has production contracts with numerous farmers and grower cooperatives.