Alaska Airlines – flying to a cleaner future?

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Airlines have made the world smaller – it is now faster and easier than ever to travel vast distances around the globe thanks to massive advances in air transport technology.

However, airlines have also made huge contributions to making the world warmer. The fight is on to slow the rate the Earth’s climate is heating up, and the demand for air travel shows little sign of slowing down.

What can be done then if the demand remains?

For Alsaka Airlines, the answer is to change their fuels. If you can’t reduce carbon emissions by making fewer journeys, the only alternative is to cut your fossil fuel consumption – fortunately for Alaska Airlines they have one source that is cheap, plentiful and actually sustainable.

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The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), led Washington State University, has now developed a jetfuel made from forest residuals from the Pacific Northwest – the stumps, branches and unusable natural debris that is left over after a timber harvest or forest thinning of managed forests on private land.

Earlier this week, Alaska flew its first flights using a mix of traditional jetfuel and 20% biofuel. Sustainable alternative jet fuels can reduce greenhouse gas emission by 50-80 percent over the lifecycle of the fuel – from growth of the raw materials, transportation to a processing facility and production. The actual emission reduction depends on the type of raw materials used. The Air Alaska flight cut CO2 emissions by approximately 70 percent against conventional petroleum jet. Clearly there is still along way to go, but this is another big step forward for alternative fuels.

The challenge now for eco-conscious Airline brands like Alaska, is to continue this development and keep pushing for alternative fuels to become a regular, feasible and affordable alternative and make sure this isn’t just a greenwashing stunt that leaves a dirty trail in the sky.

 

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