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Alaska Airlines first to fly on forest-derived biojet blend

Alaska Airlines made history flying the first commercial flight using a 20 percent blend of the world's first renewable, biojet fuel made from forest residuals. Developed through the efforts of the Washington State University (WSU)-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), the Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) type fuel was produced by Gevo.

Swissport fuel manager Jarid Svraka fuels an Alaska Airlines flight powered with a 20 percent blend of forest-derived biofuel in Sea-Tac Washington (photo courtesy Alaska Airlines).

Swissport fuel manager Jarid Svraka fuels an Alaska Airlines flight powered with a 20 percent blend of forest-derived biofuel in Sea-Tac Washington (photo courtesy Alaska Airlines).

Washington state-based Alaska Airlines today made history flying the first commercial flight using the world’s first renewable, alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals, the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests. The alternative jet fuel was produced through the efforts of the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA).

The demonstration flight departed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) for Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, DC. The flight was fuelled with a 20 percent blend of sustainable aviation biofuel. The flight, the first commercial passenger flight of its kind, continues to advance viable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels for aviation.

– 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.NARA’s accomplishments and the investment of the US Department of Agriculture provide another key in helping Alaska Airlines and the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint and dependency on fossil fuels, said Joe Sprague, Senior VP of Communications and External Relations.

Alcohol-to-Jet

Gevo, Inc., a NARA partner, successfully adapted its patented technologies to convert cellulosic sugars derived from wood waste into renewable isobutanol, which was then further converted into Gevo’s Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) fuel and believed to be the world’s first alternative jet fuel produced from wood.

– This first of its kind flight demonstrates Gevo’s commitment and ability to convert a wide range of sugar feedstocks into drop-in renewable fuels. We are pleased that we had the opportunity to prove, through the NARA project, that cellulosic sugars from wood can be used to successfully make commercial jet fuel, said Pat Gruber, CEO of Gevo.

5-year project

NARA is a five-year project that launched in 2011 and is comprised of 32 member organisations 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 forest residual feedstock used to power Alaska Airlines Flight 4 was sourced from tribal lands and private forestry operations in the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to producing 1 080 gallons (≈ 4 088 litres) of biofuel used for the flight, other key tasks of the project included evaluating the economic, environmental, and societal benefits and impacts associated with harvesting unused forest residuals for biofuel production.

The NARA initiative was made possible by a US$39.6 million grant from the 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.

– Today is a tribute to all of our NARA partners, and especially to NIFA who supported our mission to facilitate the revolutionary development of biojet and bioproduct industries in the Pacific Northwest using forest residuals that would otherwise become waste products, said Ralph Cavalieri, NARA executive director.

Alaska Airlines flew two other flights in June using a blend of biofuel produced from non-edible, sustainable corn.

 

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