Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines
Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines

The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance is producing 1,000 gallons of iso-paraffinic kerosene to be bended and used in a demonstration flight anticipated in Spring 2016. This event, when completed, will represent the first commercial flight using alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals.

The development and use of alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals provides an educational opportunity for all stakeholders in the supply chain on how forest residuals (slash piles) can be used to offset fossil fuel use and help strengthen wood-based economies.

NARA partners with Alaska Airlines

Recently, Alaska Airlines announced a partnership with NARA to use the alternative jet fuel for a commercial flight. This partnership is not only ideal from the perspective that Alaska Airlines is a Pacific Northwest-based airline using alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals sourced in the northwest, but also because Alaska Airlines was the first U.S. airline to fly multiple commercial passenger flights using a biofuel refined from cooking oil and has demonstrated its commitment to support sustainable biofuel development. Details regarding the fuel blend parameters, flight date and route have not been announced.

Forest residual sources from left to right: Weyerhaeuser, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Muckleshoot Tribe.
Forest residual sources from left to right: Weyerhaeuser, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Muckleshoot Tribe.

Regional forest owners provide forest residuals

Approximately 180 bone-dried tons of ground Douglas-fir forest residual material was transported to Lane Forest Products near Eugene, Oregon to serve as the feedstock for producing the 1,000 gallons of iso-paraffinic kerosene. This material was sourced from multiple areas in the NARA region. Weyerhaeuser, a NARA affiliate member, supplied forest residuals from their forestland in southern Oregon. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe and the Muckleshoot Tribe also provided forest residuals from their forests in western Montana and western Washington respectively. The forest residuals were mixed and screened and currently await transport to a pretreatment facility. Samples of the forest residuals were collected and will be later characterized for ash, lignin and carbohydrate properties.

Gevo, Inc. provides technology to produce bio-jet fuel from simple sugars

Gevo, a NARA affiliate member, will use its patented technologies to convert the cellulosic sugars from the forest residuals into biojet fuel. The first step in this process will convert the cellulosic sugars from wood into renewable isobutanol. Gevo has worked with NARA to adapt its patented Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology® (GIFT®) to accommodate wood sugars. Gevo will perform the fermentation process at a demonstration facility in St. Joseph, Missouri, which is jointly owned by Gevo and ICM Inc. Next, Gevo will use its patented hydrocarbon technology to convert the isobutanol into an alcohol-to-jet-synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) fuel. This process will be completed at a demonstration facility in Silsbee, Texas, which is co-operated with South Hampton Resources. Gevo recently announced their intention to participate in the NARA 1,000 gallon biojet fuel project using forest residuals and also recently announced their partnership with Alaska Airlines to supply alcohol-to-jet biofuel.

Additional partners to be announced later

NARA is negotiating with a number of potential facilities that can accommodate the steps required to pretreat and hydrolyze the wood residuals into simple sugars at scale. NARA will use a sulfite-based pretreatment process that is designed to accommodate existing pulp mill infrastructure.

NARA anticipates that the alternative jet fuel will be produced and certified by the end of 2015. The production process will provide valuable scale-up information and process validation to NARA researchers and stakeholders. The demonstration flight bridges NARA research with the targeted goals of using forest residuals to supplement fossil fuel use and improve rural wood-based economies.