Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) is the nation’s first regional stakeholder effort to explore the opportunities and challenges surrounding the production of sustainable aviation fuels.
The initiative was launched in July 2010 by 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, a center for advanced biofuels research. Climate Solutions, a Northwestclean energy nonprofit, was retained to manage a stakeholder process that included more than 40 organizations ranging across aviation, biofuels production, environmental advocacy, agriculture, forestry, federal and state government agencies, academic research and technical consultancies.
SAFN’s goal was to map a flight path to develop a safe, sustainable and economically viable aviation biofuels industry in the Northwest. The SAFN initiative takes place within a global network of similar stakeholder processes, which all support the broader aim of achieving carbon-neutral growth across the aviation industry beyond 2020.
Specifically, the SAFN initiative:
- Analyzed the most promising, local biomass sources for commercialization;
- Assessed all phases required to develop a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and use; and
- Prioritized state and federal policy recommendations needed to spur creation of sustainable fuels for aviation.
SAFN conducted five workshops and developed working groups to gather information and provide insights about specific feedstock and technology pathways, sustainability issues, aviation needs and communications.
Key factors: SAFN only considered “drop-in” fuels, those that are chemically similar to petroleum-based jet fuels and can meet the rigorous approval standards for performance and safe use in existing planes and fueling infrastructure.
Other key factors in determining potential feedstock and conversion technologies were sustainability, commercial scale and economic viability.
Addressing a Northwest market by harnessing Northwest strengths
The Northwest is a substantial market for aviation fuel. More than 800 million gallons annually are consumed for commercial and military airplane use in the region, with the bulk of demand coming from SAFN stakeholders. By 2030, fuel demand is projected to grow to more than 1 billion gallons per year. Focusing on sustainable biomass grown in the Northwest – Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana – SAFN’s regional approach provides the best opportunity to develop an aviation fuel supply chain that fits local environmental conditions and spur regional economies.
The Northwest currently produces virtually none of its own petroleum. Developing a robust sustainable biofuels industry will produce significant jobs and tax revenues and substantially reduce financial outflows from the region. While no specific projections are available for a regional biofuel industry, one national study found that producing 475 million gallons of biofuel (roughly the same amount of fuel that would be produced to create a 50 percent biofuel blend for the regional aviation demand) would result in 23,000 new jobs, $4.1 billion in added GDP growth, $445 million in federal tax revenues, and $383 million for state and local governments.