Jets using biomass fuel on Alaska Airlines' radar

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2010

Alaska Airlines will team up with Boeing, Washington State University and major airports in the Pacific Northwest to see if biofuels could be used in aviation.

The first regional assessment of its kind in the U.S., the "Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest" project will look at biomass options within a four-state area as possible sources for creating renewable jet fuel. The airports involved are Portland International, Seattle-Tacoma International and Spokane International.

The groups announced the assessment project Monday. It will examine phases of developing a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. It will include a biomass source analysis, concentrating on the Pacific Northwest. Potential sources include algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina, wood byproducts and others.

Air travel generates about 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions. Biomass could potentially save millions of tons of aviation greenhouse gas emissions, the groups said.

Alaska Airlines has already become more fuel-efficient by using a more efficient fleet and following more direct flight paths, Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer said in a statement announcing the project.

"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," he said.

"Biofuels for aircraft also could reduce Sea-Tac Airport's environmental impact and create jobs in an emerging industry," said Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani.

The assessment process will be managed by Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based environmental nonprofit organization. The idea is to make biofuels commercially available to airlines serving the region.

The project is funded by the participating parties and is expected to be completed in about six months.

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