Boeing and partners chart a flight plan to power every Sea-Tac departure with biofuel

Boeing partners with Port of Seattle and Alaska Airlines on initiative to make the use of sustainable airplane biofuel commonplace.

January 16, 2017 in Our Environment

A biofuel blend made from wood chips powered a recent Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C.

Alaska Airlines

The best solution to begin providing sustainable aviation biofuel to all flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is a small receiving and blending facility at the airport’s fuel farm, according to a study to which Boeing contributed.

Boeing partnered with Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle to conduct the yearlong study, which assessed Sea-Tac’s goal of becoming one of the first airports in the world to achieve this significant environmental goal.

“Commercial aviation is committed to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint, and biofuels are key to achieving that goal,” said Ellie Wood, regional director of environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “As part of our global strategy to develop and commercialize biofuel, we’re proud to support our hometown partners and keep the Pacific Northwest in the forefront of these innovative efforts.”

Sea-Tac’s study evaluated 30 sites around Washington state that could potentially provide the airport with 5 million gallons (18.9 million liters) to more than 50 million (189 million liters) gallons of biofuel annually. Aviation biofuel has been shown to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 80 percent on a life cycle basis.

“Unlike the biofuel itself, fuel blending and delivery infrastructure cannot grow on trees,” Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton said. “We needed this comprehensive analysis to confirm that we can offer commercial airlines feasible and sustainable delivery options while reducing our environmental footprint and being a good neighbor to surrounding communities.”

To support the project, Boeing provided expertise on approaches to develop a regional supply chain, including fuel types and producers, processing technologies, and integration with airplanes.

The study determined that refineries in Anacortes and near Bellingham, Wash., are the most cost-effective options for handling aviation biofuel as supplies increase due to their access to marine, rail and truck operations and the Olympic Pipeline that serves the airport.

“We want to signal to producers that we’re ripe for biofuel production in the Pacific Northwest,” said Carol Sim, Alaska Airlines’ director of environmental affairs.

Sea-Tac’s fuel infrastructure is used by all 24 airlines that fly at the airport. It was the nation’s 13th busiest airport in 2015, serving 42.3 million passengers on more than 380,000 flights.

The study did not address development of a biofuel production plant. Five types of biofuel are certified for commercial use, with additional production methods in development and review for approval.

Initial commercial use began last year when Oslo Airport Gardermoen in Norway and Los Angeles International Airport began offering limited amounts of biofuel to every flight. Stockholm’s two major airports began offering biofuel to airlines this month.

By Paul McElroy