Airlines Using Biofuel to Reduce Flight Carbon Emissions
Alaska Airlines has just launched its first flights using biofuel blends made from used cooking oil. These 20% biofuel blends are expected to reduce emissions by 10%. Considering the massive carbon emissions related to flying, this is a huge reduction in absolute terms.
If all Alaska Airlines flights were to use a 20% biofuel blend, the carbon reduction would be the equivalent to taking 64,000 cars off the road for a year. With higher biofuel blends and more prevalent usage among other airlines, that number could be much higher. So what’s standing in the way of this clean flight revolution?
Biofuel Blends in Short Supply
While these fuels cost about 6 times the price of regular jet fuel, Alaska Airlines’ actions send a clear signal to the biofuel industry that they’re willing to pony up the cash–and potentially a lot more of it if the cost can be reduced. Supply is a major issue. There’s simply not enough biofuel being made to meet all the potential demand.
Currently, Alaska will only be using the biofuel blend for 75 flights this month, but the explicit goal is to encourage the development of biofuels to fulfill corporate sustainability initiatives.
United Airlines also recently launched its first flight using a 40% biofuel blend from Houston to Chicago. International airlines like KLM, Thomson, Lufthansa, Air China, Aeromexico and Iberia have all flown using biofuel blends. Is this soon to be common practice for airlines?
The Impact of Biofuels on Flight Travel
Much of Americans’ carbon footprint is accounted for by driving and home energy use, but carbon emissions from flying also make up a significant portion. Even for those who fly just a couple times a year, the carbon emissions can be startlingly high. This writer found that 2 round-trip flights between Portland and Los Angeles made up more than 15% of his total carbon footprint in the past year using a carbon footprint calculator. For those who fly regularly, especially air commuters, that number can be much higher.
Current carbon emissions reductions from biofuels is a drop of carbon in the big ol’ bucket of greenhouse gas emissions, but there remains great potential for a more sustainable lifestyle through this promising new fuel source. A comprehensive sustainability strategy certainly must include a number of initiatives working in concert with one another and this may well be one of the most viable–assuming the biofuel industry can up the volume and lower the cost.
Read this writeup on Virgin Atlantic’s use of sustainable biofuels too.
[photocredit: Arstechnica; AlaskaAirlinesFlightInfo]