Delta Air Lines is investing US$2 million for a study into a potential facility for the production of biofuel made from forest floor debris.

The carrier is partnering with Northwest Advanced Bio-fuels (NWABF) to determine the feasibility of building a facility in Washington State in the US to produce sustainable aviation fuel and other biofuel products.

Fuel produced at the facility could be used in Delta operations at stations in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

According to Delta, NWAFB’s project would utilise wood residue deposits and wood ‘slash’ found on forest floors to produce sustainable fuels. The result would qualify under an approved carbon-reducing pathway recognised by the American Society of Testing and Materials.

The project aims to deliver biofuels by the end of 2023.

Delta expects the study to be completed by the middle of 2020, at which point it will “evaluate the next steps in moving forward with the project’s development”.

Alison Lathrop, MD – global environment, sustainability and compliance at Delta, commented: “While Delta continues to take actions toward our long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, fuel is a key area where we are examining opportunities to create real sustainability differences and drive accountability across the entire business as we lower our environmental impact.

According to Graeme Burnett, Delta’s senior VP of fuel management, the biofuels produced at the facility could provide around 10 per cent of the airline’s annual jet fuel consumption in the West Coast region of the US and “could become the blueprint for future projects to support Delta’s goal to further reduce its carbon footprint”.

Earlier this year, Delta operated its first carbon-neutral delivery flight, using biofuels on a new A321. The airline also purchases offsets for domestic flights into and out of seven high-traffic airports.

Dave Smoot, head of NWABF, added: “We are excited to partner with Delta Air Lines in lowering the airline’s carbon footprint and supporting Delta’s sustainability strategy. This project combines proven technologies to produce exceptional quality sustainable aviation fuel on a large scale from renewable feedstock resources.”

Michael Wolcott, co-director of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and professor at Washington State University, said: “Our research demonstrates that using forest harvest residuals to produce sustainable aviation fuels not only reduces emissions from the aviation sector, but also provides for much-need jobs in the rural and timber-dependent regions of the Pacific Northwest.”

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