14, 2016 – Alaska Airlines today landed the first commercial flight
powered in part by a new renewable fuel made of wood waste salvaged from
private lands in Washington, Oregon and Montana. Agriculture Secretary Tom
Vilsack greeted the passengers for flight AS-4 arriving from Seattle at
Washington Reagan National Airport to highlight this breakthrough in bioenergy
that supports jobs and rural economies by developing a sustainable bio-products
industry in the Pacific Northwest utilizing wood harvest left-overs that would
otherwise go to waste.
This flight is the culmination of a five-year, $39.6 million
research and education project supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food
and Agriculture (NIFA), and led by Washington State University and the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance
(NARA). Launched in 2011, NARA has advanced research into biofuels and
biochemicals, fostered the Northwest regional biofuel industry and helped
educate tomorrow’s workforce on renewable energy.
"In 2011, USDA awarded our largest-ever competitive research
grant to the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, betting on the promise
that cellulose-rich, discarded wood products could be a viable renewable fuel
source instead of going to waste. Today, we are able to celebrate the results
of that investment, which is a major advancement for clean alternatives to
conventional fossil fuels,” said Vilsack. “Over the course of the Obama
Administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate cutting-edge
research and development on renewable energy, making it possible for planes,
ships and automobiles to run on fuel made from municipal waste, beef fat,
agricultural byproducts and other low-value sources. All of this creates extra
income sources for farmers and ranchers, is bringing manufacturing jobs back to
rural America, and is keeping our country at the forefront of clean energy and
innovation. We must continue to focus on targeted investments to help the
rural economy retool itself for the 21st century.”
The demonstration flight used a 20 percent blend of jet fuel
made from cellulose derived from limbs and branches that typically remain on
the ground after the harvesting of sustainably managed private forests, known
as harvest residuals. Cellulose, the main component of wood, is the most
abundant material in nature and has long been a subject of investigation for
producing sustainable biofuels. The harvest residuals
used to make fuel for this flight came from forests owned by Weyerhaeuser in Washington
and Oregon, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in Washington and the Confederated
Salish Kootenai Tribes in Montana. The biofuel used is chemically
indistinguishable from regular commercial jet fuel.
In addition to producing 1,080 gallons of biofuel used for
the flight, other key tasks of the NARA project included evaluating the
economic, environmental and societal benefits and impacts associated with
harvesting unused forest residuals for biofuel production. NARA’s 32 member
organizations from industry, academia and government laboratories take a holistic approach to building an aviation biofuel
supply chain within Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The NARA initiative has also
resulted in more than 50 peer-reviewed research publications in 2016 related to
the development of biofuels and other products from residual wood, the development of teacher’s
guides and lesson plans on renewable energy, a biofuels webinar series and the NARA Knowledge Base, an ongoing clearinghouse
of biofuel information.
Alaska Airlines estimates
that if it were able to replace 20 percent of its entire fuel supply at Sea-Tac
Airport with biofuel, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 142,000
metric tons of CO2. This is equivalent to taking approximately 30,000 passenger
vehicles off the road for one year.
Since 2009, USDA has invested $19 billion in research both
intramural and extramural. During that time, research conducted by USDA
scientists has resulted in 883 patent applications filed, 405 patents issued
and 1,151 new inventions disclosures covering a wide range of topics and
discoveries. To learn more about how USDA supports cutting edge science and
innovation, visit the USDA Medium chapter Food and Ag
Science Will Shape Our Future.
USDA puts cutting-edge innovation to good use by exploring
innovative uses for bioproducts. The Department has invested nearly $1 billion
to support over 230 wood energy projects across the country to reduce reliance
on costly fossil fuels, support rural economic growth and advance forest
restoration. Since 2013, the Forest Service has also established cooperative
agreements with 16 states to support Statewide Wood Energy Teams to increase
the knowledge and use of wood energy. Read more at Powering
America with a More Sustainable Energy Future.
invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve
societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's
integrated research, education and extension programs support the best and
brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in
user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity,
improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues,
increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate
variability, and ensure food safety.
learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts,
sign up for email
updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.
USDA is an equal
opportunity provider, employer and lender.