Partners Plan for Large-Scale Biofuel Delivery in Seattle

 - December 16, 2015, 3:09 PM
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 takes off from Sea-Tac Airport. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by redlegsfan21)

The Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines and Boeing on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a $250,000 study to assess the feasibility a blend of biofuel and conventional fuel to aircraft at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The partners have set a goal of powering all flights with biofuel at Sea-Tac, the first U.S. airport to draft a long-term roadmap to incorporate aviation biofuel into its infrastructure.

“This will send a signal to airlines and biofuel producers that Sea-Tac Airport will be ready to integrate commercial-scale use of aviation biofuels,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton. “Biofuel infrastructure will make Sea-Tac Airport an attractive option for any airline committing to use biofuel, and will assist in attracting biofuel producers to the region as part of a longer-term market development strategy.”  

Longer term plans call for the use of “significant” quantities of biofuel at Sea-Tac’s fuel farm, which now serves all 26 airlines and more than 380,000 flights annually at the airport. Sea-Tac ranks as the 13th busiest airport in the U.S. and expects to serve more than 42 million passengers this year.

Alaska Airlines, Sea-Tac’s largest carrier and leader of the airport’s fueling consortium, wants to incorporate biofuel into flight operations at one or more of its hubs by 2020. It has identified Sea-Tac as its first choice. The Port of Seattle’s Century Agenda Goal calls for a reduction in aircraft-related carbon emissions at Sea-Tac Airport by 25 percent by 2037, largely through the use of biofuel. 

“Biofuel offers the greatest way to further reduce our emissions," said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications and external relations. “This study is a critical step in advancing our environmental goals and stimulating aviation biofuel production in the Pacific Northwest.”

Under the terms of the MOU, the Port of Seattle will manage the $250,000 study and, as Sea-Tac’s governing authority, would handle the engineering and integration of biofuel infrastructure on Port property such as the airport’s fuel farm. The partners plan to issue an RFP for the infrastructure study in the spring, in time for expected completion in late 2016. No energy company produces aviation biofuels in Washington state, requiring its importation by truck, rail or barge. 

Boeing’s role centers on lending expertise about approaches to develop a regional biofuel supply chain to serve the airport, including fuel types, fuel producers, processing technologies and integration with airplanes.

Using biofuel as a “drop-in” fuel in airplanes reduces lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to conventional petroleum fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Since 2011, when biofuel won approval for use in commercial aviation, airlines have conducted more than 2,000 passenger flights with a blend of biofuel and conventional petroleum jet fuel. That same year Alaska Airlines became the first airline to fly multiple flights using a 20 percent blend of biofuel made from used cooking oil and waste animal fat.

In the next year, Alaska plans to partner with Englewood, Colorado-based Gevo, Inc., to fly the first commercial flight on alcohol-to-jet fuel. Also, as a partner in the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliance (NARA), the airline plans to fly a demonstration flight next year using a new aviation biofuel made from forest-industry waste.