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Researchers Explore How To Make Jet Fuel Out Of Leftover Animal Fat Or Forest Waste

Oregon Department of Forestry
Forest waste, known as "slash," could be a promising material for making an alternative jet fuel

The aviation industry faces increased pressure to lower its carbon footprint. There has long been a hope that alternative jet fuels could be the answer, and this week in Seattle, experts on such fuels will gather to present their research. 

In June, the Obama administration took the first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. So that is an additional incentive to airplane makers and airlines to reduce pollution.

It is something the industry and academic researchers have already been collaborating on. Two years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration funded ASCENT, a "Center of Excellence" focused on alternative jet fuels and the environment, led by Washington State University and MIT.

This week, researchers with the center will give updates on their progress to the advisory committee, which includes industry heavyweights such as Boeing, Airbus and Delta Air Lines.

John Gardner with WSU is one of the center’s administrators. He says one promising area is "green diesel," which is made from a variety of materials.

"Some of it is made out of forest waste; Some of it is made out of tallow - in other words, animal fats. It can be made out of vegetable fats, as well," Gardner said. "There are some new facilities coming online, hopefully within the next year or two, that will be using municipal waste.”

Gardner says green diesel is usually blended with regular jet fuel.

One big reason why alternative fuels are still not widely used is that they are more expensive. But Gardner says there has been some incremental progress on bringing the cost down.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.