SeaTac, Boeing, Alaska Airlines Partner on Biofuel

Every ounce of biofuel that successfully makes its way through combustion in a jet engine is an ounce of fossil fuel that doesn’t need to be imported – even from Canada.  Biofuels generally burn cleaner, and may be necessary to allow the nation’s airlines to meet COP21 agreements.  Seattle-Tacoma Airport, partnering with Boeing and Alaska Airlines, hopes fill up all departing flights with biofuels made in its own fuel farm.   Officials from the Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines and Boeing signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to spend $250,000 on a Biofuel Infrastructure Feasibility Study on how much it will cost and what it will take to deliver a blend of aviation biofuel and conventional jet fuel to aircraft using Sea-Tac.

The facility that springs from this study must “incorporate aviation biofuel into its infrastructure in a cost-effective, efficient manner.”

Seattle Commissioner John Creighton predicts, “As leaders in aviation biofuels, this will send a signal to airlines and biofuel producers that Sea-Tac Airport will be ready to integrate commercial-scale use of aviation biofuels,” and this, “will make Sea-Tac Airport an attractive option for any airline committing to use biofuel, and will assist in attracting biofuel producers to the region as part of a longer-term market development strategy.”  The longer-term plan includes incorporating “significant quantities” of biofuel into the airport’s infrastructure, used by 26 airlines making more than 380,000 flights each year. Sea-Tac is the 13th busiest airport in the U.S. and will serve over 42 million domestic and international passengers this year.

alaska biofuel logo

Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications and external relations for Alaska Airlines, Sea-Tac’s largest carrier and leader of the airport’s fueling consortium, says Seattle will be the first of two such facilities by year end 2016.  He explains, “Biofuel offers the greatest way to further reduce our emissions.  This study is a critical step in advancing our environmental goals and stimulating aviation biofuel production in the Pacific Northwest.”  This regional production would alleviate the environmental and economic costs of hauling aviation biofuels from out of state by truck, rail, or barge.  This blog has listed efforts to bring biofuel production to the airport itself, eliminating the added costs of fuel transport.  Using local waste materials such as food, used cooking oil and rendered animal waste reduces several noxious elements from the local environment while providing a viable airline fuel.   Alaska has noted the added advantage of reduced variability of costs for such biofuels, enabling better long-range planning.

 

Boeing has worked with partners worldwide to develop and deploy biofuels

Boeing has worked with partners worldwide to develop and deploy biofuels for its operations

Boeing, which partners globally to develop and commercialize sustainable aviation biofuel,  has been working with other aircraft manufacturers and provides expertise about approaches to develop a regional biofuel supply chain to serve the airport, including fuel types, fuel producers, processing technologies and integration with airplanes.

Sheila Remes, Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes vice president of strategy. “Boeing, Washington state’s largest employer, is proud to work with our customer Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle to power every plane at Sea-Tac with a biofuel blend and lead the way for other airports to [reduce carbon emissions over the long run.”

The biofuels currently being used and planned for Sea-Tac’s fuel farm will be approved “drop-in” blends for use in airplanes without any changes to the aircraft or engines.  This allows use of existing airport infrastructure for refueling without major changes to equipment.  Such fuels can cut  lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to conventional petroleum fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Over 2,000 flights have used this blend since 2011, demonstrating its “transparent” use in actual operations.  Adding this experience to the Port’s Century Agenda Goal – to reduce aircraft-related carbon emissions at Sea-Tac Airport by 25 percent by 2037, will rely on the use of biofuel as a key strategy in this endeavor.  Acting as model for other airports, Seattle hopes to provide long-term technical support to others.

In 2016, Alaska will partner with Gevo, Inc. to fly the first ever commercial flight on alcohol-to-jet fuel. and to fly a demonstration flight using a new aviation biofuel made from forest-industry waste.  Fuel for both demonstration flights must first be independently certified.  With all these options for making alternative fuels, there seems to be no end to potential supplies.

As part of Boeing’s commitment to protect the environment and support long-term sustainable growth for commercial aviation, the company partners globally with airlines, governments, research institutions, fuel companies and others to develop sustainable aviation biofuel. Boeing has active biofuel projects in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, the Middle East, South Africa and Southeast Asia. More information:

Increasing the Number of Operations While Reducing Emissions Overall
Aviation, from what Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders, explains, provides a lifeline to many areas of the world that would be neglected without it, from bringing tourists to the otherwise barely accessible Cape Verde Islands to flying organs for transplants into remote areas of Brazil. This expanding use of aircraft is not increasing pollution in these areas, because, according to the organization, “Despite growth in passenger numbers at an average of 5% each year, aviation has managed to decouple its emissions growth to around 3%.” They attribute this to improved aircraft technology and new operating procedures.

An October, 2006 report by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, explains that power generation contributes about 24 percent of the human-induced CO2 to the world’s total emissions, with 18 percent coming from land use change (forests being cleared, farms turned to factories), “then agriculture, industry and transport at 14% each (aviation is part of transport). Buildings (8%), other energy related activities (5%) and waste (3%) make up the rest.”

Lord Stern’s report goes on. “CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas emitted by aircraft, however. The exhaust from aircraft engines is made up of: 7% to 8% CO2 and water vapor; around 0.03% nitrogen oxides, unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and Sulphur oxides; traces of hydroxyl family and nitrogen compounds and small amounts of soot particles (although the industry has managed to more or less eliminate soot emissions over the past few decades). Between 91.5% and 92.5% of aircraft engine exhaust is normal atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen.”

Improved airplanes with cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient engines will help cut emissions.  Illustration by Aviation: Benefits Without Borders

Improved airplanes with cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient engines will help cut emissions. Illustration by Aviation: Benefits Without Borders

Water vapor trails (contrails) are controversial, even pointed to as part of a global geo-engineering conspiracy, although players and motives would be difficult to identify, especially in light of efforts to rid the skies of even the non-conspiratorial traces of a plane’s passage.

Counting vapor trails and nitrogen oxide releases, some recent research suggests that aviation CO2 emissions should be multiplied by 1.9 times to take account of the added impact of these other gasses at altitude. Other transportation emissions sources such as cars, trains and ships can share this same “forcing” multiplier – shipping often being particularly “dirty” because of its use of bunker oil. Some experts say aviation should not be tarred with these multipliers when such additional emissions are not counted in assessing pollution from other transportation sources. Perhaps a more equitable and honest approach would be to include all such emissions to get a better picture of the true environmental impact all our means of transport produce.
Aviationbenefits.org makes the following statement and includes links to important findings and proposals.

The aviation industry is doing a great deal to limit its environmental impact
Read more about how we are addressing the issue of climate change through our climate plan; the technology being deployed to reduce emissions; the search for sustainable sources of energy; improvements to operations that are helping to reduce emissions, delays and noise; infrastructure innovation and the important role economic measures will play in allowing aviation to undertake its climate plan.

Improved infrastructure will decrease costs for and emissions from ground operations

Improved infrastructure will decrease costs for and emissions from ground operations.  Illustration by Aviation: Benefits Without Borders

Sea-Tac, Boeing and Alaska Airlines are certainly promoting the clean, green aspects of aviation, as are a great many others in the industry. Let us hope other industry apply as honest a view and as earnest an effort on reducing their emissions.

 

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