Oregon & Washington Push To Develop New Aviation Biofuels Industry

If Idaho farmers get their way, they will be growing feedstocks that don’t compete today with food, such as ethanol has done with corn, driving up prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offered a program in Washington to encourage farmers to grow “camelina,” a oil seed plant, that already has been used in the jet fuel to power the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Imagine an entirely new industry that creates a big new market for Idaho’s farmers and eventually loggers. It taps the scientific know-how of Idaho universities and the Idaho National Laboratory. It would have the U.S. military and two of the Pacific Northwest’s leading companies, Boeing and Alaska Airlines, putting their weight behind it. And it would be tied to a worldwide effort to develop an aviation biofuel industry that could replace 20 percent of jet fuel in less than a decade.

Consider that producing 475 million gallons of biofuel, which would be enough to create a 50-percent biofuel blend to meet the Northwest’s aviation demand, would create an estimated 23,000 jobs across the economy, add $4.1 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and $445 million in federal tax revenues, and $383 million for state and local governments, a study showed.

Oregon and Washington leaders already imagined this, but so far, Idaho is only nominally on board. Boeing, Alaska Airlines, the operators of the region’s three largest airports – Port of Seattle, Port of Portland and Spokane International Airport – and Washington State University launched Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest in 2010, the first regional group exploring aviation biofuels on a bioregional basis.

Officials from Boeing and Climate Solutions, the group of companies and airports engaged to moderate the effort, laid out their ambitious plans at the Harvesting Clean Energy conference held recently at the Boise Centre on the Grove. Boeing’s Michael Hurd revealed the jet manufacturing giant’s goal to produce one percent of the world’s jet fuel demand – about 500 to 600 million gallons – by 2015. This Northwest consortium is working toward developing a plant to begin production to meet this goal.

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