Jumpstarting a Biojet Industry in the Northwest

A new study outlines an approach for success
By Erin Voegele | June 17, 2011

Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest released the results of a 10-month study on the potential for biobased aviation fuel production in the Northwest in May. The study, which explores the feasibility, challenges and opportunities for creating a biojet industry in the Pacific Northwest, was completed in partnership with Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University.

According to the study, in order to make a sustainable biofuels industry a reality in the region, an integrated approach is needed. This includes the use of a variety of diverse feedstocks and technology pathways, including oilseeds, forest residues, solid waste and algae. The study also examined all phases of aviation biofuel development, from biomass production and harvesting to refining, transport, infrastructure and actual use by airlines.

Results of the study highlight the importance of developing renewable alternatives for the aviation industry. While other energy sectors, such as ground transportation, heat and power, have various fuel options they can pursue, the study points out that the aviation industry has the clearest need for liquid, energy-dense fuels. According to the authors, the aviation industry is a critical sector of our economy and should take priority for biofuel development. The SAFN stakeholders point out that our nation needs a strong aviation industry for economic, cultural and security reasons.

As demand for sustainable alternative energy grows, the study notes that we will have to make strategic choices regarding the most effective use for biomass feedstocks. According to the study, the aviation industry enjoys many structural advantages that make it an attractive option for biobased fuels. This includes a relatively small number of locations that distribute the fuel, which creates concentrated demand and an existing fuel delivery structure. The authors of the study point out that this facilitates the development of economically viable, advanced biofuel supply chains.

The study also points out that supportive government policies will be critical to jump-starting the industry and attracting investment. While the SAFN does not advocate for permanent government financing, the authors note that focused public investments and policy support will be needed to create an economically competitive basis for the industry.

“The course is clear that aviation biofuels are key to the future of sustainable air travel,” says Lawrence J. Krauter, CEO, Spokane International Airport. “We can no longer base our future on imported petroleum, especially if the United States wants to remain an aviation leader. The SAFN study proves domestic biofuels are feasible and offers an economic opportunity for us to remain competitive as an industry and move toward a sustainable, domestic fuel supply.” —Erin Voegele