On Monday, an Alaska Airlines jet flew into the history books as the first commercial flight to use a "renewable, alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals," as KOMO News puts it. In other words: Tree limbs and branches, the byproducts of the timber harvest that typically would have been burned as waste, made up some of the fuel that powered the Boeing 737 along its journey from Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport to Washington DC's Reagan National. "The jet fuel itself is 20% blend of petroleum and renewables," says a representative of biofuel company Gevo, which was involved in the project. "This is the future of being able to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint."
The project, which used wood from local tribal lands and private forest operations, began five years ago. Washington State University and the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance worked on it with a $40 million federal grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The jet fuel containing wood products is rated as equivalent to regular jet fuel, the Seattle Times reports. If all of Alaska Airlines' planes at Sea-Tac saw 20% of their fuel replaced with the biofuel, it would reduce carbon emissions equal to those produced by 30,000 cars per year, but more funding is needed before the fuel can be used regularly because it's currently more expensive than jet fuel. (Read more biofuel stories.)