Alaska Airlines to fly on wood-based aviation biofuels next year

June 3, 2015 |

In Washington state, Alaska Airlines is teaming up with the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) to advance the production and use of alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals, the tree limbs and branches that remain after a forest harvest.

Gevo will provide isobutanol that made from wood waste, which will then be converted to jet fuel.

As the airline partner for NARA, Alaska Airlines intends next year to fly a demonstration flight using 1,000 gallons of alternative biofuel being produced by the NARA team and its many partners. The planned flight signals a growing interest in the aviation industry for a viable alternative to conventional fossil fuel.

NARA’s focus is on developing alternative jet fuel derived from post-harvest forest residuals. Residual treetops and branches are often burned after timber harvest. By using these waste materials as the feedstock of a biojet fuel supply chain, NARA and its aviation industry partners, seek to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions as well as bolster sustainable economic-development potential in timber-based rural communities located throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Gevo breakthrough

Gevo currently makes isobutanol from corn at its plant in Luverne, Minn., but its process has always had the flexibility to adapt to other feedstocks. The new process uses forest residuals – the wood scraps that are left over from logging operations – providing a value creating recycling opportunity for waste wood that is traditionally left in the forest, potentially becoming a forest fire hazard. The company has previously announced the testing and use of its alcohol-to-jet fuel derived from its corn-based isobutanol in conjunction with major airline partners and the U.S. military.

Gevo has adapted its patented Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology to convert the cellulosic sugars from wood into renewable isobutanol. Gevo then uses its patented hydrocarbon technology to convert the cellulosic isobutanol into alcohol-to-jet-synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) fuel.

The company’s cellulosic isobutanol production will be conducted at a demonstration facility in St. Joseph, MO, that the company jointly operates with ICM Inc. The ATJ-SPK will be produced in Silsbee, TX, at the demonstration facility the company operates with South Hampton Resources.

“There are significant economic and environmental benefits of renewable jet fuel, which makes it a great market for Gevo. This announcement demonstrates the flexibility of our technology and reinforces our technology leadership,” said Gevo CEO Pat Gruber. “The next two milestones for renewable jet fuel are the approval by ASTM and the scheduled commercial test flights. Our team is actively engaged in both of these activities.”

“We’re encouraged by Gevo’s work with the NARA team in converting Pacific Northwest forest residual biomass into jet fuel, and look forward to working with them on this test flight and in the next phases of the commercialization of this technology,” said Ralph Cavalieri, Director of NARA.

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