Alaska Airlines made history this week by operating the first commercial flight powered by a fuel made from forest debris.
The alternative type of jet fuel was made from branches, twigs and other materials left over after the harvesting of managed forests in the US Pacific Northwest. The demonstration flight from Seattle to Washington DC was fuelled using a 20% blend of the new biofuel, which the producers say is “chemically indistinguishable” from regular jet fuel.
The project was led by the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), which comprises 32 member organisations from industry, academia and government laboratories. The post-harvest forestry material used in the biofuel is usually burned.
“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,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications & external relations.
“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.”
While the 4,088 litres of biofuel used on the flight has a minimal impact on Alaska Airlines’ overall greenhouse gas emissions, if the airline were able to replace 20% its entire fuel supply at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 142,000 metric tons of CO2. This is equivalent to taking approximately 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road for a whole year.
Alaska Airlines has been a leader in the development biofuel; in June this year it operated two flights using another type of sustainable fuel derived from non-edible corn.