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Boosters see Northwest future in aviation biofuel
June 8, 2011
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  • May 25, 2011 By: The Associated Press
    SEATTLE – Boosters of aviation biofuel say the Northwest could lead the way in developing the industry that would produce it.
    Officials from Boeing Co., Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and Washington State University, said a feasibility study released Wednesday shows the Northwest has the diverse feedstocks, fuel delivery infrastructure and the political will to create a biofuels industry that would reduce greenhouse gases and meet future aviation fuel demands.
    The 10-month study was conducted by Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, which includes Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Washington State University and the Sea-Tac, Spokane and Portland airports.
    A University of Washington professor who does research and teaches classes in the same subject area said enthusiasm for biofuels is wonderful but there are big challenges.
    Those challenges include finding a cheap, consistently available feedstock for the fuel and an economical way to grow, extract and process it in a commercial, large-scale way, said Renata Bura, an assistant professor in UW’s College of the Environment.
    “Everybody can claim we have the process and we can do,” she said. But when you ask to see the proof, it’s not there yet.
    Bura said algae is considered the future of biofuel but no one she is aware of has developed an economical way to grow it, harvest it and process it.
    Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest is hoping to push this development process along and find good solutions to the biofuel puzzle.
    “It is critical to the future of aviation that we develop a sustainable supply of aviation biofuels,” said Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division. “Airlines are particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, and the aviation community must address this issue to maintain economic growth and further mitigate the environmental impacts of our industry.”
    So far, biofuel has not offered price stability because the industry cannot control its supply chain. Bura mentioned as an example the impact of the price of corn on the cost of biodiesel made from corn.
    Jay Manning, chief of staff for Gov. Chris Gregoire, welcomed the idea of a biofuel industry in Washington. Doing so would create jobs, be good for the environment and help grow Washington’s aerospace industry, The Herald newspaper reported.
    Alaska Airlines has done what it can in terms of fuel efficiency by operating fuel-efficient jets and using satellite-based technology to reduce fuel burn, said Bill Ayer, chief executive of the Seattle-based airline.
    “We realize that efficiency can only take us so far,” Ayer said at a news conference with other officials from Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest at Sea-Tac Airport.
    Billy Glover, vice president of environment and aviation policy for Boeing, listed the fuel sources the group has identified, including algae, solid waste, forest residues and oil seeds like camelina.
    Glover said it’s important not to focus on just one fuel source. Additionally, the group wanted to make sure the sources they identified are sustainable, and he believes the price of producing biofuel will drop over the years.
    “We expect a long runway of improvement over the years,” Glover said. He believes a new biofuels industry in the region will mean lots of new, good jobs.

    Date: 2011-05-25