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WSU, aviation groups and growers pushing biofuel alternative

One of the main news announcements this morning came by way of Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Washington State University. This is the formal announcement of an initiative to promote more biofuel use by the aviation industry.

WSU has been active in promoting this topic. The news takeaway in today's announcement is this: an alliance of airports, airlines, industry growers and researchers will push forward with a serious study to examine how Northwest crops can be affordably used to produce jet fuel.

Bill Ayer, CEO of Alaska Airlines, was quoted saying: "Through this initiative, we are joining other key stakeholders in our region to explore the development of alternatives to jet fuel that could further reduce our carbon footprint."

Boeing is a big partner in this project as well. WSU gets lots of credit for having spearheaded efforts over the last two years to bring together a solid group of industry and aviation specialists to sign onto the deal.  One good way to get an overview is to watch a portion of this video with WSU VP of Economic Development John Gardner. Gardner has pushed the the Northwest "farm to fuel" concept for more than a year.

The video was produced by NOTE: Start the video at the 60 minute mark to watch and hear Gardner speaking on a sustainable fuels panel in Seattle in 2009.

Here's how the announcement described what will happen as the alliance studies the prospects:

"The comprehensive assessment will examine all phases of developing a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. It will include an analysis of potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina, wood byproducts and others. The project is jointly funded by the participating parties and is expected to be completed in approximately six months."

John Gardner has an interest blog summary of the concept, which many now call "Farm to Fuel."  On it this was part of his description of the problem:

Rather than piecemeal regulation, most of the aviation industry is seeking a global solution.  Despite a relatively small amount (~8%) of the liquid transportation fuel used in the US for air travel, leaders in the aviation industry have been among the most ardent advocates for next-generation, sustainable aviation biofuels. Boeing has been among these leaders, not only in support of sustainable fuels, but also advanced new planes, such as the Dreamliner, which will greatly increase fuel efficiency per mile.

WSU is working with Boeing, other universities, research institutions, and companies to help bring sustainable aviation biofuels to market.  Partnering with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative, WSU is particularly active in developing the most appropriate regional biofeedstocks for the aviation biofuel supply chain. Our farm to fuel initiative hopes to assist the Pacific Northwest to be among the first to use the new fuel at Seattle's SeaTac Airport  within the next few years.  Also, along with Oregon State University, we hope to provide leadership across the country in developing other supply chains that best suit local conditions through the Sun Grant Initiative and network.

The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.