Alaska Airlines has moved well beyond the experimental phase and is now powering passenger flights with biofuel made from nonedible corn.
On Tuesday, two Alaska flights – one Boeing 737 bound for San Francisco, the other for Washington, D.C. – burned a mixture of standard jet fuel and 20% biofuel made by Gevo.
This marks the latest step in biofuel development for passenger jets. Alaska flew 75 flights in 2011 that burned biofuel derived from used cooking oil.
In August 2009, retired hydroplane champ Chip Hanauer ran the fastest qualifying lap at Seafair aboard the U-787 Boeing hydro, using biofuel from the camelina plant to power its turbine engine.
I witnessed Hanauer's 153.691-mph lap on Lake Washington. The boat, formerly a Miss Elam Plus owned by the Ellstrom family, had been painted in distinctive Boeing 787 livery. Testing the fuel in a racing hydroplane was all about performance. If the fuel provides optimal power without a hiccup, that breeds confidence for using it to ferry passengers at 30,000 feet.
"With this biofuel you sacrifice nothing, it's all gain," Hanauer told The Seattle Times. "It's all sustainable, it's all a nonfood source and it's every bit as good."
Gevo says its biofuel manufacturing process yields 11 pounds of high-protein animal feed for every gallon of jet fuel produced.
Alaska aims to consistently power its commercial flights with sustainable biofuel by 2020.