Resky Killion, a fueler at Sea-Tac International Airport, fills tanks on the wing of an Alaska jet before its flight to St. Louis, Mo.. The Port of Seattle, Alaska Air and Boeing announced Wednesday they would collaborate on a study of the infrastructure needed to use aviation biofuels for regular flights from Sea-Tac.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is taking another step toward powering everyday flights with sustainable aviation biofuel after the Port of Seattle, Boeing and Alaska Airlines agreed to study practical issues such as whether the airport’s existing network of giant tanks and underground pipes can be used for biofuels.
The $250,000 study, paid for by the port, will assess the costs and infrastructure necessary to deliver a blend of biofuel and conventional jet fuel to aircraft at Sea-Tac. The three contributors say that infrastructure is a crucial step toward routine biofuel use in the future: Another key issue is how to get biofuels to the port..
“We need to get the infrastructure developed so when there is a supply we can get it into the aircraft, but we also need someone to come along and produce it at commercial quantity and market rates” said Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications and external relations at Alaska Airlines. “Our view is if we show the demand by the airlines, we show the infrastructure readiness on the part of the airports, than hopefully we can get the fuel producers to come on board as well.”
The partners say their long-term plan is to incorporate “significant quantities of biofuel” into Sea-Tac’s fuel infrastructure, which is used by 26 airlines and more than 380,000 flights annually at the airport.
Currently fuel is piped underground from an adjacent fuel farm to the airport and into airplanes. The study will determine if the existing infrastructure works for biofuels or if new storage facilities or additional piping would be needed.
“It really is an absolutely necessary step in order to have a regular commercial quantity of biofuels available here at Sea-Tac,” said Sprague.
Aviation biofuels are not currently being produced in Washington and must be imported by truck, rail or barge. The study will also explore the most effective way to get biofuel to the port.
Boeing will provide expertise on developing a regional biofuel supply chain to serve the airport.
“It is not easy to develop an entirely new fuel supply for aviation, but we are committed to do this on a global basis, and first in the Puget Sound,” said Sheila Remes, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of strategy, during a news conference at Sea-Tac’s fuel farm.
The study is expected to be complete by late 2016.
Alaska Airlines was the first airline to fly multiple flights using blend of aviation biofuels made from used cooking oils and waste animal fat in 2011, and next year it plans to fly the first commercial flight on alcohol-to-jet fuel, Sprague said.
Additionally, as a partner with the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, Alaska plans to fly a demonstration flight next year using a new aviation biofuel made from forest-industry waste. Both those fuels must first be certified, however.
The airline industry has some strong emission production targets over the next several years.
“Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that is going to help us really achieve the industry targets is the use of alternative fuels, and the best bet is a biofuel,” said Sprague.
For the Port, aviation biofuel is key to meeting its goal of reducing aircraft-related emissions at Sea-Tac by 25 percent.
Boeing has active biofuel projects in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“[Sustainable aviation biofuel] reduces CO2 emissions by at least 50 percent on a gallon per gallon basis compared to petroleum,” Remes said. “That is good for our customers, our employees, the Puget Sound community and the planet.”