On November 14th, the passengers on Alaska Airlines flight #4 received some interesting news. Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications and external relations, stepped onto the plane prior to departure and announced “ I hope you all don’t mind the smell of trees today on your flight”. He then described how this flight was the first to use a jet fuel made from wood.
Some of the early arriving passengers were already aware of their brush with history due to the press conference at the gate and the flier describing the new fuel. Also, many of the passengers were associated with NARA, the organization that made the biojet fuel, and wanted to experience the flight event that culminated many years of work.
A nice surprise at arrival
The historic flight was from Seattle to Washington D.C. At the arrival gate, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, was there to greet the passengers. Secretary Vilsack then escorted NARA members to the tarmac so to stand by the plane, take photographs, and shared our thoughts regarding the event. The USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture is the agency that provided the financial support to get the fuel produced, and it was really great to experience his enthusiasm.
An opportunity to educate
A major goal for the NARA project is to provide education and outreach regarding the use of forest harvest residues to make biojet fuel and co-products. Fueling an Alaska Airlines commercial flight with a biofuel made from wood was an extremely effective education and outreach opportunity. Reaction from the news release and news conference was incredible. In two days multiple news stories were written and news stations reported the event. The websites for Alaska Airlines, Washington State University, and NARA received an exceptionally high amount of traffic and comments.
A delegation of NARA members followed up the flight with briefings for congressional members and their staff on how the sustainable production of biojet fuel from forest harvest residues could provide rural employment, increase energy security and reduce the carbon impact from the aviation industry. These visits were then followed up by a one-day meeting where invited guest from government agencies like the USDA and DOE came to meet with NARA representatives and learn about the many outputs and outcomes from the NARA project.
NARA involved many businesses and organizations to produce the biofuel. This too created an exceptional education and outreach opportunity. The organizations that contributed to the fuel production (timberland owners, wood processors, chemical companies, and aviation leaders) were challenged to do something never before done at a large scale, and in doing so, they learned a great deal and moved a step closer to participating in a supply chain that could supply this type of biojet fuel in the future.
End of the NARA project
NARA has reached the end of its five-year funding. The website will continue to host the many outputs generated from the project. Final reports are being processed and they will be made available through the website and onto the WSU Research Repository.