Study Shows Potential for Biofuels at Seattle-Tacoma Airport

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) may become one of the first airports in the world to offer a reliable supply of biofuels for aircraft, and a new study outlines how it could be accomplished.

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WSP USA was the prime consultant on a feasibility study that evaluated potential sites in the Puget Sound region for the storage and blending of aviation biofuels for integration into Sea-Tac Airport’s fuel farm and hydrant system.

The study results provide the client, Port of Seattle, with a short list of options for the infrastructure that will allow for the supply of larger volumes of biofuels for aircraft.

“Our primary analysis focused on identifying property that allows for access by multiple modes of transportation and allows for direct integration with the Sea-Tac supply pipeline and fuel farm,” said David Williams, project manager for WSP.

The proposed short-term solution provides an immediate option that could be implemented within the next two years, with a longer-term option that can be implemented as larger-scale sustainable biofuels production comes online.

“Once a dedicated biofuel source is available and the infrastructure is developed at the airport – and possibly at another offsite location – it will become practical to supplement conventional jet fuel with aviation biofuels,” Williams said.

Port of Seattle has set a goal of reducing aircraft-related emissions by 25 percent by developing the infrastructure necessary to integrate an aviation biofuels supply into the overall fuel supply at the airport.

A Jan. 12 public announcement of the completed study at Sea-Tac Airport included representatives from the Port of Seattle, as well as Alaska Airlines and Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which co-financed the study.

Williams’ team includes Auden Kaehler, project lead on feasibility analysis, and Allison Dobbins, project lead on site selection.

Wood Waste Fuel

Biofuel has been tested on flights since 2008 and can be produced using sources as varied as used bio-cooking oil and meat product waste. As part of a parallel study on production feedstock sources, a November flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C. used biofuel produced from wood waste, which is seen as a high priority since it is plentiful in the Pacific Northwest.

“We have a significant forestry industry and the transportation costs would be more competitive with conventional jet fuel supply,” Kaehler said.

Biofuels sourced from a local production facility could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 80 percent. Demonstrations and pilot programs have also shown an overall improvement in fuel efficiency using biofuel blends.

The study determined that it would be feasible to develop biofuels infrastructure to serve the main fuel supply system at the airport, with the goal of producing a blended fuel of 20 percent aviation biofuel and 80 percent conventional jet fuel.

Unexpected Results

Some of the study findings and recommendations were not quite what the client expected when the study was initiated. During property evaluation, WSP determined that some of the client’s suggested blending and infrastructure locations had to be removed from consideration.

“Following discussions with jet fuel suppliers and pipeline owners, we determined that some of the Port’s high-priority sites were not feasible from a logistical standpoint,” Kaehler said. “One potential blending location was downstream from the airport supply infrastructure, which couldn’t support reverse product flow to bring the fuel to the airport.”

The study also identified challenges relating to property ownership and the priorities of existing property owners that didn’t match the Port’s desired usage, which would limit the potential availability of the site for development or conversion to a fuel supply facility.

“Fortunately, the study was able to identify alternative options that were not previously considered, but still met the Port’s long-term objectives,” Kaehler said.


The Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines and Boeing Commercial Airplanes co-funded the feasibility study to explore how biofuels could be used on flights leaving Sea-Tac Airport.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking

The Port was pleased with the final recommendations. “While the client may have been a little disappointed initially that some of their initially suggested options did not materialize, they were happy with the alternative options and out-of-the-box thinking we provided,” Williams said.

The Port’s next steps include allocation of funding for the design and development of the short-term option, and working with the fuel consortium to move the process forward.

“Our team can assist the Port of Seattle in the next phases, which include actual implementation, as well as developing partnerships with the private sector and assisting other clients in the region with biofuels supply analysis,” Kaehler said.

He appreciated the opportunity to use his past experiences with jet fuel supply – along with his recent master’s dissertation on the economics of biofuels – and apply it to a real-world situation.

“We have a distinct opportunity to leverage this experience and become a global leader in biojet infrastructure supply analysis, site selection, site design, and alternatives analysis,” Kaehler said. “It also solidifies Sea-Tac as a global leader in alternative fuels and emissions reductions in the aviation sector.”

“It was a great opportunity to be on the cutting edge of aviation technology and infrastructure development,” Williams added. “To be able to help prepare the Port to limit carbon emissions was very rewarding.”

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