BIOFUELS TAKE FLIGHT by Eric Gold
In July 2013, Hawai`i BioEnergy - formed as a consortium of three of the state's biggest landowners and other investors - announced an agreement with Alaska Airlines to supply locally sourced aviation biofuels for its Hawai`i flights within five years of regulatory approval, starting as soon as fall 2018. The agreement represents one part of a broad-based commitment to sustainability by Alaska Air Group, which in 2013 was ranked No. 1 in fuel efficiency among U.S. airlines by the International Council on Clean Transportation, and has reduced its overall carbon footprint intensity by 30 percent since 2004.
The continuing commitment to sustainable-fuel development is a key facet of the Alaska Air Group efforts. In 2011, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air were the first U.S. airlines to fly multiple passenger flights powered by a blend of conventional fuels and biofuels, when they operated 75 flights on 20 percent biofuel. Prior to this, Alaska Air Group took part in the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest study, the results of which were published in May 2010. More recently, in September 2013, Alaska Airlines was named as an industry partner for the Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment, a new national research center due to be created by the Federal Aviation Administration at Washington State University in Richland, Washington.
Development of a sustainable fuel source in Hawai`i is of particular interest for the airlines as well as for the Aloha State. Isolated from the mainland, Hawai`i depends on imported oil not only for transportation fuel but for much of its electricity production. Oil price fluctuations can mean not just more expensive gas but higher food prices in Hawai`i.
Hawai`i BioEnergy's goal is to develop biofuels from sources such as eucalyptus, an attractive feedstock because it grows quickly and is already present on the islands. Executive Vice President and COO Joel Matsunaga foresees the production of an array of fuels, from oil for power generation to gasoline and diesel to jet fuel. (In late 2013, Hawai`i BioEnergy also received regulatory approval for its contract with Hawaiian Electric Company to supply biofuels for electricity.)
"When you spend so much money on imported oil," Matsunaga says, "that's a lot of your economy leaving your state. Hawai`i's solution to its energy demand is a quilt of different sources, [including] wind, solar and wave [power]. But as some point you need liquid fuels, too."
Alaska Air Group Executive Vice President Keith Loveless agrees, seeing benefits for the state as well as for business.
"Beyond the environmental advantages," he says, "it improves the fuel-supply integrity in the state of Hawai`i, which will allow for the further growth of our airline operations throughout the islands."