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Renewable Energy: Alaska Airlines Makes History by Flying the First Commercial Flight Powered by Forest Residuals

Nov 16, 2016 06:33 AM EST
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Washington-based Alaska Airlines achieved a mind-blowing feat on Tuesday by flying the first commercial flight that was powered by fuel derived from forest residuals and the remaining branches and limbs after the harvesting season or the thinning of forests on private areas.

The fuel was produced by the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) in collaboration with Washington State University. NARA brings together 32 member organizations from the private sector, the government, aviation, and academia under a USDA grant to showcase the feasibility of producing fuel for jets using forest residuals.

Powered by a 20 percent mixture of the new biofuel sourced from the Pacific Northwest, the flight took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the morning and landed safely at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Gevo Inc. a partner of NARA, successfully converted cellulosic sugars obtained from wood waste into isobutanol, which was further transformed into Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) fuel. This is the first alternative jet fuel in the world derived from wood and meets the standards laid down by the ASTM.

The normal forest practices abandon some harvest materials that resupply soil materials. The unused forest biomass is normally piled and burned. The fuel, in this case, was derived from excess forest residuals gathered from forests owned by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Weyerhaeuser, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes and the leftover wood fibers from Cosmo Specialty Fibers.

Sustainable jet fuels cut down the emission of greenhouse gas by approximately 50 to 80 percent over the fuel's lifecycle, which begins from the feedstock's growth and ends with production. The flight that took off yesterday was supposed to emit 70 percent less carbon dioxide than the normal petroleum jet. In June this year, Alaska Airlines flew two other flights using a mixture of biofuel manufactured from the non-edible part of sustainable corn.

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