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Northwest to become hub of biofuel development

March 27, 2012, 07:46 am

Lawmakers in Washington and throughout the Northwest are looking to foster and encourage the development of an aviation fuels industry in the region by harnessing the powerful presence of Boeing, Alaska Airlines and other aviation groups nearby.

Last November, Alaska Airlines flew passengers aboard Boeing 737s fueled by a biofuel mixture containing used cooking oil from a Louisiana company. Alaska airlines was able to fly 75 flights with the 20 percent biofuel blend, but the experiments were very expensive due to the chain of supply. In order to obtain the biofuel mixture, Alaska Airlines had to purchase the cooking oil from the Louisiana company through a broker in Amsterdam, which resulted in each gallon of the fuel costing $17, the Seattle Times reported.

If the region were able to create its own biofuel industry with the help of airlines, manufacturers and research labs, the supply chain would be shortened and the biofuel could be more affordable. The sooner biofuel tests are more affordable, the faster the aviation fuel sources will be made available to U.S. airlines to reduce carbon emissions across the aviation industry, the Times reported.

Lawmakers in Washington are working with Congressional leaders to jumpstart the aviation fuels industry in the Northwest. Because Boeing, Alaska Airlines and a number of research labs already have established themselves in the Pacific Northwest, lawmakers believe adequate funding could boost the region into a biofuel epicenter. The Northwest also has plentiful farms and forests that could be harnessed to provide algae and woody material that could be converted into biofuel, the Times reported.

To get the industry up and running, however, will likely require government subsidies and regulatory support so the benefits outweigh the costs. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire recently signed a bill to provide private aviation biofuel plants in Washington better access to financing through lower-interest revenue bonds, according to the Times.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on aviation, is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to create an aviation biofuel research hub near Washington State University's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to utilize available resources to grow the industry.

“The cutting-edge research I saw at this lab is exactly why Washington state is uniquely positioned to lead the aviation biofuel industry,” Cantwell said. “I’m calling on the FAA to create an aviation biofuel Center of Excellence, because green jet fuel means more jobs. Now it’s time to jumpstart the research and development of 21st century fuel to power airplanes and drive innovation.”

Another way to boost aviation in the United States is by purchasing pilot insurance to keep flights safe.

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