Govt Spent $39.6 Million Making Jet Fuel From Trees

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Alaska Airlines made the first commercial flight using fuel made partly from decaying trees Monday, the culmination of a 5-year project sponsored by the government.

The Boeing 737 full of passengers flew successfully from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C. on 1,800 gallons of jet fuel, 20 percent of which came from converting sugars found in wood and other forest waste, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Monday.

USDA contributed a total of $39.6 million to the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance at Washington State University in the years following 2011, “betting on the promise that cellulose-rich, discarded wood products could be a viable renewable fuel source instead of going to waste,” Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, said in a statement.

That investment is starting to pay off as “a major advancement for clean alternatives to conventional fossil fuels,” plus a way to create “extra income sources for farmers and ranchers” and bring “manufacturing jobs back to rural America,” Vilsack said.

“Over the course of the Obama Administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate cutting-edge research and development on renewable energy, making it possible for planes, ships and automobiles to run on fuel made from municipal waste, beef fat, agricultural byproducts and other low-value sources,” Vilsack said.

Gevo, Inc., one of the NARA’s corporate partners, developed a process to convert decomposing wood waste into a type of alcohol called isobutanol, which can then be made into jet fuel that meets quality standards for commercial flights.

“A plane flying on wood — it is a paradigm breaker,”  Pat Gruber, CEO of Gevo told The Denver Post.

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