Flying high on biofuel
June 3, 2011
By Ben Anderson in Alaska Dispatch: Consider this: Airlines that service the United States alone burn through about 17.5 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, according to an industry trade group. Back in the early part of 2008, during a spike in gas prices, 25 airlines around the world went bankrupt or out of business, in large part due to high petroleum costs.
With gas prices again high around the nation — and jet fuel partly responsible for record-high airfare prices — the commercial aviation industry is investing in research and science to wean itself off of petroleum. The Northwest and two of its industrial titans, Boeing and the Alaska Air Group, have set sights on the “biomass production capabilities” of the region, and the potential this renewable resource offers in transitioning away from petroleum and powering the airplanes of tomorrow.
A new study jointly funded in part by Boeing, Alaska Air and the Washington State Department of Commerce suggests that Northwest biomass could someday help stabilize the volatile jet fuel market. Biomass won’t offer a “magic antidote” or complete independence from petroleum-based fuels, the study warns. But the mind-boggling amount of biomass — biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms — available in the Northwest, with its millions of acres of forests, excess timber industry waste (think sawdust), biofuel-friendly agricultural crops, and even algae, makes it an attractive prospect with the potential for huge economic benefits that are sustainable, renewable and American-made. Read more