News / USA

US Pacific Northwest Looks to Jump-Start Green Jet Fuel Industry

New report finds signs of an emerging market

A US Navy jet assigned to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 tests a 50/50 mixture of Camellia seed-based biofuel blend over the skies of Southern Maryland on Earth Day 2010.
A US Navy jet assigned to the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 tests a 50/50 mixture of Camellia seed-based biofuel blend over the skies of Southern Maryland on Earth Day 2010.


Rosanne Skirble

The U.S. Pacific Northwest is a good place to jump-start a renewable jet fuel industry, a new report finds.

The study, "Powering the Next Generation of Flight," looks at the challenges and opportunities of developing a domestic renewable jet fuel industry that can both reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and help clean the air.

The thousands of jet aircraft that crisscross the skies each day all around the world account for two percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted worldwide.

Military jets test biofuels

Military fuel consumption makes the Department of Defense the single largest consumer of petroleum in the United States. And, they are considering biofuels.

Algae-based crude oil
Algae-based crude oil

Last year the Navy’s F-18 fighter planes ran test flights using jet fuel partially made from plant oils. In May the U.S. Air Force’s famed Thunderbirds unit of F-16 fighter/bombers became the first aerial demonstration team to fly on so-called biofuel.

Also this year successful tests were conducted with the Air Force’s big C-17 transport aircraft.

Emerging biojet fuel market

These biofuel test runs are signs of an emerging market, according to the new report released by a private consortium called Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, which supports a renewable jet fuel industry in America’s Pacific Northwest.

The report says running a jet engine on a blend of biofuel, which is an alcohol refined from plants such as algae, maize or soybeans  is much less polluting, and less costly, than using pure petroleum-based fuel.

Camelina is a likely candidate for producing oil for biofuels
Camelina is a likely candidate for producing oil for biofuels

And using biofuels more extensively in aircraft could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign petroleum and protect airline companies, in particular, from volatility in the fuel market.

Keith Loveless, a vice president with Alaska Airlines, says his company saw a 47 percent hike in aircraft fuel prices this year.

“Other airlines have had even worse effects.  The wild swings and prices have resulted in the loss of hundreds and thousands of jobs in our industry.”

Jump-starting the industry

Loveless says unlike other industries, aviation has limited alternatives to improve energy efficiency or stabilize cost.

“We don’t have anything like an electric car that’s out there. You are not going to see solar panels on wings any time soon so we really need to prioritize the application of sustainable biofuels to the aviation sector.”

The report finds the Pacific Northwest is a good place for a renewable jet fuel industry because many airline companies and airplane manufacturers, such as Boeing, are based there.  

And, report co-author Patrick Mazza with the environmental group Climate Solutions says the region has a wide variety of biomass resources to choose from.

“Unlike our current bio-fuel industry which largely relies on two crops - corn and soy beans - we’re talking about a whole range of feed stocks sources including oil seed crops, algae and forest residues.”

The new report envisions a supply chain of growers to produce biomass, refineries to make the fuel and a market of airline companies to purchase it.

An overview of Imperium Renewables' biodiesel refinery in Grays Harbor, Washington
An overview of Imperium Renewables' biodiesel refinery in Grays Harbor, Washington

John Plaza is the founder and chief executive officer of Imperium Renewables.

Since its launch in 2004, the company has become one of the largest independent bio-diesel producers in the United States. Its refinery has the capacity to produce 400 million liters (100 million gallons) of bio-diesel fuel a  year.  

Plaza says Imperium is ready to be a major supplier of sustainable jet fuel.

“Imperium is focused on building that technology at our existing bio-diesel plant and adding on to the facility’s capabilities. So in other words, we are not talking about converting bio-diesel. We’re talking about building additional capacity at our existing facility and using much of the infrastructure that’s there, for example, the storage and the logistics that we have with shipping and rail and truck.”

Plaza says biofuels have met rigorous tests for use in military and commercial aircraft. To forge ahead and build a jet-fuel industry, he believes new federal energy policies and production incentives will be needed.

“And I think that that is really the next step is getting federal support in the realm of long-term policy and ideally purchase commitments from the Department of Defense for these type of fuels to allow for the investors to feel comfortable that this is a credible, solid business that they will get a return on.”

Seeking government support

Washington State representative Jay Inslee has introduced a law in Congress that would extend those Department of Defense contracts from five to 15 years.

“This should be a totally bi-partisan issue.This is good for national security.This is good for economic growth. I’m hopeful on this long-term contract issue that we get this done this year.I’m hopeful.”

Experts predict the potential biofuel market in the United States could be 76 trillion liters a year, supplying both military and commercial aircraft. The Boeing Company’s vice president for environment and aviation policy,

Billy Glover, hopes renewables can capture at least one percent of that market within five years. “We’ve set that as a near term target. But the first one percent is the hardest one percent.” And, Glover adds, from there it’s a matter of scaling up to grow the market, with a model that can meet the demand for jet biofuel not only in the United States but around the world.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs