Airlines, military experiment with cleaner fuels

Commercial and military aircraft one day could be powered by biofuels, including an oil from a plant grown in Eastern Washington, as the airline industry and the Defense Department seek renewable and cleaner fuel sources.

Boeing, in partnership with airlines, has conducted five test flights of commercial aircraft powered in part by alternative fuels. The airline industry is moving toward a goal of reducing petroleum use as a cost-saving and energy security issue and to reduce its carbon footprint, said Richard Wynne, director of geopolitical and policy analysis for Boeing.

Wynne, speaking Monday to the 10th Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Kennewick, Wash., said biofuels supplied from 20 percent to 50 percent of the fuel on the test flights. Dutch air carrier KLM also used biofuels on a 747 with passengers aboard.

Airline and aircraft manufacturers that are part of Airline Transportation Action Group have committed by 2015 to making biofuels 1 percent, or about 500 million to 600 million gallons, of their annual fuel consumption, he said. Worldwide, fuel comprises 25 percent of the operating costs for airliners.

The focus of the conference, which concludes today, is to promote economic development in the rural Northwest through clean energy development and production.

One of the most promising of the biofuel products for aviation use is camelina, an oil-seed and nonfood crop that's being grown in rotation with wheat in Eastern Washington. Camelina, which doesn't need much water and thrives in marginal soils, shows the most immediate promise of available biofuels for use in aircraft, Wynne said.

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