Alaska Airlines Completes Its First Commercial Flight Using Biofuel

On November 14,  Alaska Airlines flew a Boeing 737-800 airliner from Seattle to Washington, DC using jet fuel that contained 20% biofuel made from forest residuals — the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests. The conversion process is the result of research conducted at Washington State University as part of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance.

jet biofuel for Alaska Airlines

Chemically, the biofuel is indistinguishable from conventional Jet A fuel derived from petroleum. The forest residual feedstock used to power Alaska Airlines Flight 4 was sourced from tribal lands and private forestry operations in the Pacific Northwest.

“This latest milestone in Alaska’s efforts to promote sustainable biofuels is especially exciting since it is uniquely sourced from the forest residuals in the Pacific Northwest,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications and external relations. “NARA’s accomplishments and the investment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide another key in helping Alaska Airlines and the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint and dependency on fossil fuels.”

The 1,080 gallons of biofuel used on the cross country flight had a minimal impact on Alaska Airlines’ overall greenhouse gas emissions. But if the airline were able to replace 20% of its entire fuel supply at Sea-Tac Airport, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 142,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to removing about 30,000 passenger vehicles from the roadways for one year.

NARA is a five-year project that launched in 2011 and is comprised of 32 member organizations from industry, academia and government laboratories. Today’s flight represents its efforts to develop alternative jet fuel derived from post-harvest forestry material that is often burned after timber harvest.

The NARA initiative was made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support research on biofuels and biochemicals, foster regional supply chain coalitions, empower rural economic development and educate the public on the benefits of bioenergy. That is precisely the kind of research that will likely be eliminated by our new climate denier in chief, Donald Trump. Thank you, American voters.

“Today’s flight comes after years of investments to help the aviation biofuels industry take off,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell. “By creating these sustainable biofuels, we will revitalize our rural agricultural communities, foster economic growth, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut our dependence on foreign oil while growing our competitiveness in global markets.” After January 20, you can kiss any further efforts in that direction goodbye, Senator.

Source: Washington State University

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.