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Aviation biofuel production gets $2m boost ahead of 2023 target

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[FILES] A plane injected with Aviation fuel


The quest for the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), such as aviation biofuels, has received a boost with a new commitment of $2 million to meet the 2023 production target in the United States.

The commitment, courtesy of Delta, will fund exploration for the establishment of a sustainable biofuel refinery in Washington State.The aviation industry has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 50 per cent from their 2005 level by 2050. Blending lower carbon SAF with fossil jet fuel will be essential to meeting this goal.

This is reflected in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which anticipates biofuels reaching around 10 per cent of aviation fuel demand by 2030, and close to 20 per cent by 2040.As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability, Delta Air Lines is investing $2 million to partner with Northwest Advanced Bio-fuels, LLC (NWABF) for the feasibility study of a biofuel production facility to produce sustainable aviation fuel and other biofuel products.

The sustainable aviation fuel, expected to be produced in a facility in Washington State, could be used in Delta operations at stations in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. NWABF’s project would utilise wood residue deposits and wood slash lying on forest floors to produce the biofuel, which would qualify under an approved carbon-reducing pathway recognised by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). NWABF plans first delivery of the fuel by the end of 2023.

Delta’s Managing Director — Global Environment, Sustainability and Compliance, Alison Lathrop, said while Delta continues to take actions toward its long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, “fuel is a key area where we are examining opportunities to create real sustainability differences and drive accountability across the entire business as we lower our environmental impact.”

Delta expects the feasibility study to be complete by the middle of 2020. At that time, Delta will evaluate the next steps in moving forward with the project’s development.Delta’s Senior Vice President — Fuel Management, Graeme Burnett, explained that this single project could provide approximately 10 per cent of Delta’s annual jet fuel consumption in the West Coast region and, if successful, could become the blueprint for future projects to support Delta’s goal to further reduce its carbon footprint.

“This project has additional environmental benefits because it reduces wood residuals in forests, which can increase potential fire hazards and inhibit future tree growth.

“We are excited to partner with Delta Air Lines in lowering the airline’s carbon footprint and supporting Delta’s sustainability strategy,” said Dave Smoot, Head of Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels, LLC. “This project combines proven technologies to produce exceptional quality sustainable aviation fuel on a large scale from renewable feedstock resources,” Burnett said.

The first flight using blended biofuel took place in 2008. Since then, more than 150,000 flights have used biofuels. Only five airports have regular biofuel distribution today (Bergen, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Oslo and Stockholm), with others offering occasional supply.

But the centralised nature of aviation fuelling, where less than five per cent of all airports handle 90 per cent of international flights, means SAF availability at a small number of airports could cover a large share of demand.

Still, aviation biofuel production of about 15 million litres in 2018 accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of total aviation fuel consumption. This means that significantly faster market development is needed to deliver the levels of SAF production required by the aviation industry and keep on track with the requirements of the SDS.

The co-director of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and professor at Washington State University, Michael Wolcott, added that the research demonstrates that using forest harvest residuals to produce sustainable aviation fuels, not only reduces emissions from the aviation sector but also provides for much needed jobs in the rural and timber-dependent regions of the Pacific Northwest.


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