It’s a stretch goal, but it’s the right thing to do. That was the sentiment at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as Alaska Airlines and Boeing joined the Port of Seattle in announcing an ambitious plan for the use of aviation biofuels.
Alaska Air and Boeing have been working with the port on more sustainable jet fuels for years. In 2011 they demonstrated capability to make aviation biofuels from used cooking oil, with enough to power 75 test flights.
Now they’ve announced a long-term strategy to make it possible for all flights and all airlines at Sea-Tac to incorporate biofuels. They're planning to scale up from thousands of gallons to millions. No word yet on what the feedstock will be. But Port Commissioner John Creighton says their memorandum of understanding will pump $250,000 dollars into testing feasibility on a commercial scale.
“That will evaluate cost and infrastructure necessary to ensure that aviation biofuels can be successfully blended and delivered to aircraft at Sea-Tac Airport,” Creighton said.
Biofuel adoption in the airline industry has been slow because it’s hard to make it cost-competitive with regular jet fuel, especially when oil prices are low.
But the aim is to blend as many sustainable energy sources as possible into the mix. Potential feedstocks include woody biomass leftover from forestry, algae, garbage from landfills and corn.
"We like to say that we're 'fedstock agnostic', said Alaska Air's Director of Environmental Affairs, Carol Sim.
"Being in the northwest, it would be great if we could support a biofuel economy from forest residuals... We just don’t have that industry developed here yet," Sim said.
"So, what we’re looking at is possibly trying to use another feedstock initially and then as fuels become available having something more local.”
If this all sounds familiar – it should. In 2011 the US Department of Agriculture awarded $80 million dollars to the University of Washington and Washington State University for aviation biofuels research.