On Nov. 9, 2011, Alaska Airlines
initiated the first regular commercial service in the United States
powered by a blend of sustainable biofuels from used cooking oil and petroleum-based jet fuel. The flights from SeaTac
Airport to Washington
D.C. and Portland,
Ore. are important steps in a
long journey that will provide a more sustainable and lower carbon future for
the aviation industry.
Earlier this year (2011), Climate
Solutions partnered with Alaska Airlines and other aviation leaders in
releasing Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest: Powering the Next Generation of
Flight. This report documents the need to develop sustainable, lower carbon
fuels as replacements for fossil-based jet fuels and outlines a flight path for
Northwest leadership on this issue. Aviation leaders recognize that they need
clean safe alternative fuels to solve critical environmental, economic, and
security challenges for their industry. Realizing this vision requires a lot of
work from many quarters, including farmers and land managers, biofuel
producers, governments, research institutions, and non-profit partners.
In the months since the report
was released, Climate Solutions has already seen progress on many key
milestones, including Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announcing Washington
State University (WSU) and the University of Washington (UW) wining grants
totaling $80 million to develop technologies and feedstocks for advanced
drop-in biofuels. These fuels for aviation and
other transport sectors must perform equal to or better than conventional
petroleum fuels and are made from wood residues and other non-food materials.
The Northwest is emerging as one of the nation’s most dynamic centers for
development of sustainable, low-carbon aviation fuels.
The biggest single factor,
though, involves showing a real market demand from the airlines and military
branches that need to use the fuels. That is why the above mentioned flights
are so important. By beginning commercial flights using a biofuel blend, Alaska
Airlines is showing producers that there will be a market for low-carbon,
sustainable alternatives. That will spur innovation, develop scale, and drive
competition for fuels. These first
flights will use biofuels that have life-cycle carbon emissions that are 60%
less than petroleum. By using waste cooking oils, the fuels will not compete
with food or create other significant challenges. Ultimately, the goal is
developing a wide variety of sustainable fuels that can compete head-to-head
with dirtier alternatives, provide real reductions in global warming pollution,
and meet sustainability targets.