Ag Policy Blog

Biofuel from Wood Used by Commercial Airline

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A flight by Alaska Airlines on Monday marked the first commercial flight fueled at least in part with a new fuel from wood waste.

The flight carried passengers from Seattle, Wash., to Reagan National Airport just outside of Washington, D.C. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on hand to greet the passengers as a way to highlight the new biofuel, which came from wood waste off private lands in Montana, Oregon and Washington.

The biofuel could potentially provide a sustainable bio-products industry in the Pacific Northwest utilizing wood harvest left-overs that would otherwise go to waste, USDA stated.

The wood-waste biofuel stemmed from a five-year, $39.6 million research and education project supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and led by Washington State University and the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). NARA has researched biofuels and biochemical in the region.

"Today, we are able to celebrate the results of that investment, which is a major advancement for clean alternatives to conventional fossil fuels,” Vilsack said.

The secretary added that USDA has invested $332 million since the Obama administration began to accelerate research and development on renewable energy. Such work has made it possible for planes, ships and automobiles to run on fuel made from municipal waste, beef fat, agricultural byproducts and other low-value sources, Vilsack said.

"All of this creates extra income sources for farmers and ranchers, is bringing manufacturing jobs back to rural America, and is keeping our country at the forefront of clean energy and innovation. We must continue to focus on targeted investments to help the rural economy retool itself for the 21st century."

The Alaska Airlines flight used a 20% blend of jet fuel made from cellulose derived from limbs and branches that typically remain on the ground after the harvesting of sustainably managed private forests, known as harvest residuals, USDA stated. The harvest residuals used to make fuel for this flight came from forests owned by Weyerhaeuser in Washington and Oregon, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in Washington and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes in Montana. The biofuel used is chemically indistinguishable from regular commercial jet fuel.

Alaska Airlines estimates that if it were able to replace 20% of its entire fuel supply at Sea-Tac Airport with biofuel, 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 one year.

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