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A Colorado Company Just Made Wood-Based Fuel, and It Worked on a Cross-Country Flight

Nov 17, 2016 07:32 AM EST
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A Colorado Company Has Just Made Wood-Based Fuel - And It Worked on a Cross-Country Flight
Alaska Airlines had a commercial flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., using jet fuel made out of alcohol from wood scraps. The plane, literally flying on wood, is a game-changer in the renewable jet fuel arena.
(Photo : Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Alaska Airlines had a commercial flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., using jet fuel made out of alcohol from wood scraps. The plane, literally flying on wood, is a game-changer in the renewable jet fuel arena. 

The airlines used a 20 percent blend of the jet fuel, courtesy of Gevo, and tested it several times to make sure it met standards. Gevo CEO Pat Guber told the Denver Post that the new fuel is a paradigm breaker in the realm of jet fuels. The fuel consists of refined cellulosic renewable alcohol.

It can be remembered that steam locomotives that burned wood used to be the fastest way to get around the United States almost 150 years ago. They fell in favor of coal-powered boilers, and then the diesel locomotives. This paved way to propeller planes and modern jets.

Renewables-wise, jet fuels made of corn, sugar beets, sugar cane and other starch-rich plants have provided the lowest-cost options. Oil is becoming too expensive, now around $65 a barrel, and can directly compete with petroleum-based fuels.

Wood is more expensive to convert. However, the technology behind it is starting to advance further. This process could be fruitful as the starch-rich materials can now be used to raise food.

Guber said as long as a material can be converted into alcohol, Gevo can transform that into jet fuel. The company can then blend this with the federally-allowed 30 percent concentration.

It can be noted that any renewable jet fuel must be cost-competitive. However, several airlines have committed to making sure any future growth carbon neutral starting in 2020. 

This means a sustainable biofuel should be made by 2020. Alaska Airlines has since 2011 tested a variety of renewable jet fuels. 

Just like how restaurants boast of locally-sourced food, airlines may finally market locally-sourced fuels from plants nearby.

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