Pacific Northwest aviation businesses and airports are flying together to promote aviation biofuel development in the region.
The “strategic initiative” includes Alaska Airlines, The Boeing Company, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and the Washington State University. Their endeavor, called the “Sustainable Aviation Fuel Northwest” project, is the first regional assessment of its kind in the U.S., according to a joint announcement from the group this week.
The assessment will examine all phases of developing a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. It will include an analysis of potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina, wood byproducts and others. The project is jointly funded by the participating parties and is expected to be completed in about six months.
“By transitioning to a more fuel-efficient fleet and adopting technology to follow more direct flight paths, Alaska Airlines has made significant strides in minimizing the environmental impact of our flying in the communities we serve,” said Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer in the joint release. “Through this initiative, we are joining other key stakeholders in our region to explore the development of alternatives to jet fuel that could further reduce our carbon footprint.”
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh added, “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.”
The assessment process will be managed by Climate Solutions, an Olympia, WA, environmental nonprofit organization, which will align the effort to sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. The project’s objective is to identify potential pathways and necessary actions to make aviation biofuel commercially available to airline operators serving the region.
Because biomass sources absorb carbon dioxide while growing and can have higher energy content than fossil-based fuel, their increased efficiency and use as aviation biofuel could potentially save millions of tons of aviation greenhouse gas emissions.
Air travel currently generates approximately 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, and the industry has set goals to lower its carbon footprint, including the use of aviation biofuel when it becomes available.
Camelina is a second generation biofuel crop that has already undergone extensive testing as a jet fuel alternative. Boeing said last year that it is one of the most promising sources of renewable jet biofuel.
This feels like what it will take to get sustainable alternative fuel off the ground in a major way: Regional interests from producer to manufacturer to infrastructure owners to users banding together to make it happen, sooner rather than later, setting the example.