Alaska Airlines flight first to be powered in part by a new renewable fuel
November 29, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Nov. 14 greeted the Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Washington Reagan National Airport, which was the first to be powered in part by a new renewable fuel made of wood waste salvaged from private lands in Washington, Oregon and Montana.
This flight is the culmination of a five-year, $39.6 million research and education project supported by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and led by Washington State University and the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, according to a USDA news release.
"In 2011, USDA awarded our largest-ever competitive research grant to the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, betting on the promise that cellulose-rich, discarded wood products could be a viable renewable fuel source instead of going to waste," Vilsack said. "Today, we are able to celebrate the results of that investment, which is a major advancement for clean alternatives to conventional fossil fuels.
"Over the course of the Obama administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate cutting-edge research and development on renewable energy, making it possible for planes, ships and automobiles to run on fuel made from municipal waste, beef fat, agricultural byproducts and other low-value sources."
The demonstration flight used a 20 percent 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, according to the USDA.
Cellulose, the main component of wood, is the most abundant material in nature and has long been a subject of investigation for producing sustainable biofuels. 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, according to the USDA.
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