A Biofuel Revolution is Coming, and Alaska Airlines Wants to Lead It
We've covered the ongoing development of solar-powered airplanes, which look almost space-age as they fly silently through the sky. But if sustainable aviation fuel is going to come from anywhere in the near future, it won't be from solar but from biofuel. Continental ran a biofuel-powered test flight last January out of Houston and flew around the Gulf of Mexico, and now Alaska Airlines is investigating whether biofuels can be used more broadly. The airline is teaming up with Boeing and Washington State University to run a pilot biofuel program across three Northwest airports.
PDX, SeaTac, and Spokane will see whether they can become part of their own little biofuel sub-industry, where nearby algae, agriculture, and wood byproducts are converted into something that can keep airplanes in the air. The details are a little sketchy but the idealocal, non-fossil fuel materialsseems pretty straightforward.
The ultimate goal, according to the organizers, is to "explore the development of alternatives to jet fuel that could further reduce our carbon footprint." The theory is that you can get more bang for your carbon buck out of biofuels than you can out of traditional jet fuel. Whether that's actually true isno pun intendedstill up in the air.
Biofuels are arguably the oldest way of creating power. You find something like a tree, you light it on fire, and then you use the released energy to do something. Biomass isn't particularly efficient either, which is why we use fossil fuels. And of course you're still burning off carbon.
But biofuels are still better than oil in at least two respects. First, they're renewable. Second, collecting them doesn't require using rigs that blow up and destroy entire ecosystems. In a post-Deepwater Horizon world, we're ready to let folks throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks. There's got to be some alternative to another 50 years of fossil fuel-based civilian aviation. Hopefully.
[Photo: MPF / Wiki Commons]
· Jets using biomass fuel on Alaska Airlines' radar [Juneau Empire]
· Green Travel [Jaunted]
· Airplanes [Jaunted]