Two airlines fly on green power
The second week of November was significant for the aviation industry and its future energy requirements.
On Nov. 7, Continental Airlines flew the first-ever commercial domestic flight using a blend of biofuel and traditional jet fuel.
The Boeing 737-800 flight from Houston to Chicago was powered by a 40 percent biofuel mix created from algae by San Francisco-based Solazyme.
Parent company United Continental Holdings said it planned to negotiate the purchase of 20 million gallons of biofuel per year, for delivery as early as 2014.
Solazyme has developed a proprietary fermentation process to create the algae oil, which was refined outside Houston using renewable jet fuel processing technology from Honeywell. The fuel does not require any modification of standard jet engines.
The flight is the first step towards commercialization of the renewable fuel blend
“Sustainable biofuels, produced on a large scale at an economically viable price, can one day play a meaningful role in powering everyone’s trip on an airline,” United Chief Operating Officer Pete McDonald said in a statement.
On Nov. 9, two Alaska Airlines flights operated with a 20 percent biofuel blend that uses cooking oil. Alaska Air planned 75 more biofuel powered flights over a three-week period in November.
Increased use of biofuels will hopefully reduce the industry’s dependence on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Jet fuel is the single largest operating expense for airlines and the most volatile.
The aviation industry has few energy alternatives. For at least the next 20 to 30 years, commercial and military jets will need liquid, high energy-density fuels with the same technical performance as petroleum-based fuels, according to the industry.
Alaska’s biofuel flights come 15 months after the airline, Boeing, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University formed a strategic initiative to promote biofuel development for airline operators in the Pacific Northwest.
In May, a study prepared by the stakeholder group showed that the region has the diverse feedstocks, fuel-delivery infrastructure and political will needed to create a viable biofuels industry for the aviation industry. Creating such an industry, however, will depend on securing early state and federal government support to prioritize aviation in the early stages of U.S. biofuel development, it said.
Focused public investments and parity with other biofuel programs are needed to get the aviation biofuel industry off on a solid footing, it stressed.
The comprehensive study examined all phases of aviation biofuel development, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport and airport infrastructure and use by airlines.
The study recommended the wide use of feedstocks and technologies, including oilseeds, forest residues, solid waste and algae.
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