Alaska Airlines Successfully Tests Wood-Based Jet Fuel

Alaska Airlines has been making significant changes lately but while new routes and new marketing can certainly help any commercial airliner, the Seattle-based airline’s newest change might get the most attention.

Alaska Airlines has just become the first commercial airline to use fuel made from trees.  The maiden voyage for this new program was a near coast-to-coast non-stop flight from Seattle, WA, to Washington DC.  Of course, this inaugural flight means more to the industry as a whole.

For example, if Alaska Airline replaced just 20 percent of its overall fuel supply—as it did in this first flight—it would “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 142,000 metric tons of CO2.” the company goes on to say, “this is equivalent to taking approximately 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.”

Alaska Airlines senior vice president of communications and external relations, Joe Sprague, notes, “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.”

NARA partner Gevo, Inc., was the firm behind the conversion of celluloid sugars from wood waste into the renewable substance: isobutanol.  According to Alaska Airlines isobutanol can then be converted into Gevo Inc’s proprietary Alcohol-to-Jet fuel. The company says that the wood came from sustainably sourced and managed forests in the Pacific Northwest, from trees that would have been otherwise burned off.

“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,” explains Ralph Cavalieri, who is the executive director of NARA’s.

Of course, this new, more sustainable energy source is not quite poised to take over traditional jet fuel in commercial airlines—at least not anytime soon—it is certainly a significant step towards making air travel immensely more environmentally friendly.

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