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About Sustainable Aviation Biofuels

About Sustainable Aviation Biofuels

The need for sustainable aviation biofuels

Developing a domestic, competitively priced, sustainable supply of biofuels is fundamental to the future of American aviation. The cost of fossil-based jet fuel has tripled over the past 10 years and represents one of the largest expenses for airlines. In addition, commercial aviation seeks to be carbon neutral by 2020 and cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050 compared with 2005 levels. A sustainable biofuels industry would help insulate airlines from fuel price spikes — enabling them to offer economical air travel while remaining profitable — help meet their environmental goal, and spur economic growth within and outside of aviation.

Unlike ground transportation sectors, the aviation industry has fewer energy alternatives. For at least the next 20 to 30 years, commercial and military aircraft will need liquid, high energy-density fuels with the same technical performance as petroleum-based fuels.

Biofuel-powered commercial flights in the U.S.

Alaska Airlines launched biofuel-powered commercial flights in the United States on November 9, 2011, to raise awareness that renewable, sustainable fuels meet the stringent safety and technical standards of the aviation industry and can power today’s commercial aircraft. The flights also clearly demonstrate growing industry demand for a transition to competitively priced, sustainable biofuels.

Alaska Airlines will operate 75 flights during November 2011 powered by a 20 percent biofuel blend made from used vegetable cooking oil, produced by Dynamic Fuels and distributed by SkyNRG. The 28,500 gallons of fuel cost nearly six times more than conventional “Jet A” aviation fuel, or about $17 a gallon, because no large, stable supply of biofuels exists yet.

Alaska Air Group is committed to reducing its carbon footprint. The company has cut emissions 26 percent per revenue passenger mile since 2004 by investing in the most fuel-efficient airplanes on the market (the Boeing 737 and Bombardier Q400) and through a variety of other efforts. However, efficiency is only part of the answer. In order for the aviation sector to continue its impressive record of fuel efficiency and emissions reduction — while continuing to grow — a sustainable supply of aviation biofuels must be developed.

Federal policies are critical to jump-start a biofuels industry

Creating a commercially viable supply will depend upon securing early government support to prioritize the aviation industry within U.S. biofuel development. Supportive policies are fundamental to attract private investment, accelerate industry growth and provide long-term economic benefits. While Alaska Airlines does not advocate for permanent government financing, it recognizes that focused public investments and policy support will be needed to put the aviation biofuels industry in an economically competitive position.

The Pacific Northwest: An economic case for sustainable biofuels

More than 800 million gallons of traditional fuel are consumed annually for commercial and military airplane use in the Pacific Northwest. By 2030, that fuel demand is projected to grow to more than 1 billion gallons per year.

To date, the Northwest produces virtually none of its own petroleum. Developing a robust, sustainable biofuels industry would generate significant jobs and tax revenues while substantially reducing financial outflows from the region. While no specific projections are available for a regional biofuels industry, one national study found that producing 475 million gallons of biofuel (roughly the same amount of fuel that would be needed to provide a 50 percent biofuel blend for the regional aviation demand) would result in 23,000 new jobs, $4.1 billion in added GDP growth, $445 million in federal tax revenues, and $383 million for state and local governments.1

1 Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest: a 10-month study to explore the feasibility, challenges and opportunities for creating an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest. May 2011. Summary available online: content/uploads/2011/05/SAFN_ExecSummary.pdf