Alaska Airlines Just Completed America’s First Biofuel Flight

Good for the airline, good for Ma Nature, good for us

November 15, 2016 9:00 am

For many Americans — especially those who don’t own a car — plane travel is our prime contribution to carbon emissions.

New York Times editorial from 2013 reported that a transatlantic flight produces around 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide per person per trip; for comparison, the average American produces around 19 tons of carbon dioxide — total — in a year. So if you’re making monthly round-trips from coast to coast, you can handily surpass that figure doing nothing but sitting in an uncomfortable seat in a metal tube 30,000 feet above ground.

Destroying the environment is very, very easy. 

Mitigating that problem is, by contrast, difficult — though not impossible. Take, for example, Alaska Airlines. The Seattle-based airline was most recently in headlines for its acquistion of Virgin America, news to make any lover of mood-lighting-enhanced travel weep.

We have a happier report today: Alaska has begun flying with fuel made of 20 percent “post-harvest forestry material” — basically, the woodland waste that’s leftover after timbering, which is usually burned. Around 1,080 gallons of this biofuel were used on an Alaska flight from Seattle to D.C. Multiply that by every flight in the fleet, and the environmental savings are substantial: “equivalent to taking approximately 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.”

Interesting to note that the research into producing the biofuel was aided by a nearly $40 million grant from the Department of Agriculture. We look forward to seeing how much of that will be available this time next year. 


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