FPL Research Helps Fuel Coast-to-Coast Flight

Washington state-based Alaska Airlines made history flying the first commercial flight using the world’s first renewable, alternative jet fuel. The fuel was made from forest residuals, the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests.

The alternative jet fuel was produced through the efforts of the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), and a technology called SPORL, developed by Forest Products Laboratory’s JunYong Zhu.

FPL-developed technology contributed to the development of the first alternative jet fuel made from forest residues. (Photo courtesy of NARA.)

FPL-developed technology contributed to the development of the first alternative jet fuel made from forest residues. (Photo courtesy of NARA.)

The demonstration flight departed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. The flight was fueled with a 20 percent blend of sustainable aviation biofuel, which is chemically indistinguishable from regular jet A fuel. The flight, the first commercial passenger flight of its kind, continues to advance viable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels for aviation.

Reducing carbon footprint

“This latest milestone in Alaska’s efforts to promote sustainable biofuels is especially exciting since it is uniquely sourced from the forest residuals in the Pacific Northwest,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications and external relations. “NARA’s accomplishments and the investment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide another key in helping Alaska Airlines and the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint and dependency on fossil fuels.”

While the 1,080 gallons of biofuel used on the flight has a minimal impact to Alaska Airlines’ overall greenhouse gas emissions, if the airline were able to replace 20 percent of its entire fuel supply at Sea-Tac Airport, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 142,000 metric tons of CO2. This is equivalent to taking approximately 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.

NARA is a five-year project that launched in 2011 and is comprised of 32 member organizations from industry, academia and government laboratories. Today’s flight represents its efforts to develop alternative jet fuel derived from post-harvest forestry material that is often burned after timber harvest.

The forest residual feedstock used to power Alaska Airlines Flight 4 was sourced from tribal lands and private forestry operations in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to producing 1,080 gallons of biofuel used for the flight, other key tasks of the project included evaluating the economic, environmental and societal benefits and impacts associated with harvesting unused forest residuals for biofuel production.

Empowering regional, rural economies

The NARA initiative was made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support research on biofuels and biochemicals, foster regional supply chain coalitions, empower rural economic development and educate the public on the benefits of bioenergy.

“Today is a tribute to all of our NARA partners, and especially to NIFA who supported our mission to facilitate the revolutionary development of biojet and bioproduct industries in the Pacific Northwest using forest residuals that would otherwise become waste products,” said Ralph Cavalieri, NARA executive director. “We are proud of every one of the partners and stakeholders – from forest managers to Gevo and Alaska Airlines – who have laid the foundations for a renewable fuel economy that will keep skies clear and healthy with the potential to bolster economically challenged timber-based rural communities in our region.”

Gevo, Inc., a NARA partner, successfully adapted its patented technologies to convert cellulosic sugars derived from wood waste into renewable isobutanol, which was then converted into Gevo’s Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) fuel. Believed to be the world’s first alternative jet fuel produced from wood, the fuel meets international ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, allowing it to be used safely for today’s commercial flight.

WSU among many partners, stakeholders

“This first of its kind flight demonstrates Gevo’s commitment and ability to convert a wide range of sugar feedstocks into drop-in renewable fuels,” said Pat Gruber, Gevo’s chief executive officer. “We are pleased that we had the opportunity to prove, through the NARA project, that cellulosic sugars from wood can be used to successfully make commercial jet fuel. We congratulate our fellow NARA partners and thank the USDA-NIFA for its unwavering support in the pursuit of renewable jet fuel. I also thank Alaska Airlines, which continues to be a great partner.”

Photos and video from today’s news conference are available for download at

http://blog.alaskaair.com. Learn more about NARA Renewables at https://nararenewables.org/ and follow the flight using the hashtags #JetFuel and #CleanEnergy.

Wood for Energy Focus of May “Update”

fpmuupdateThe latest Update from the Forest Products Laboratory’s Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU) is now available!

The May 2016 Update focuses on wood for heat and power. The Update reveals the winners of the National Wood Stove Competition and outlines the accomplishments of 21 state wood energy teams. It also includes exciting news about a new tribal sawmill operation that runs on biomass, as well as a calendar of upcoming classes, events, and workshops.

If you would like to receive the FPMU Update via email, send a message to asarnecki@fs.fed.us to be added to the distribution list.

Curious Collection: Thousands of Decay Fungi Cataloged at FPL

The Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) Center for Mycology Research is home to one of the largest collections of wood-decay fungi in the world. The collection consists of an herbarium and a culture collection.

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com

The herbarium serves as a national repository for wood-decay fungi collected by mycologists since the early 1900s. The fungi fruiting bodies (mainly conks, mushrooms, crusts, or stromata) are collected in the field and then dried and briefly frozen for insect control.

The culture collection is one of the largest assemblages of fungi in the world, containing about 12,000 isolates representing about 1,500 species. The collection is diverse, but primarily consists of Basidiomycetous fungi. Mycologists continuously collect new cultures of wood-decay fungi as they conduct research on fungal biodiversity throughout the world. These fungi are brought back to FPL and identified by experts, and cultures of the freshly collected fruiting bodies are made from spores, fungal tissue, or both.

The herbarium and culture collection are a valuable resource to the scientific community. Aside from contributing to further study of fungi through classification or DNA sequencing, the collection is also used in biotech applications. Examples of such work include using decay fungi to break down wood for pulp and paper or biofuels production, and for bioremediation of toxic pollutants in soil.

Wood decay fungi are also a potential source of pharmaceuticals, including cancer-fighting agents. Pharmaceutical companies have screened some of FPL’s fungi for their ability to produce chemicals that may be of use in medicine or other processes. Many opportunities exist for further work in this area.

Highrise Harvest: Vacant Buildings Ripe with Resources

Baltimore, Maryland, a city of more than 600,000 people locked in the largest urban corridor of the United States, seems like an unlikely place to find the rich resources of the forest. Look a little closer, or rather, inside of, the nearly 16,000 vacant homes and buildings however, and a different kind of landscape emerges—a landscape that researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) see great potential in. Behind the crumbling brick and stone facades lie wooden floors, beams, and other construction material that await to be re-purposed by savvy entrepreneurs willing to become the lumberjacks of these “urban forests.”

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where not currently exists.

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where none currently exists.

FPL researchers, in partnership with the Coalition for Advanced Wood Structures, recently conducted a feasibility study that aimed to provide a framework for collecting, processing and distributing this urban woody biomass in Baltimore. Instead of simply disposing of the rubble from the demolished buildings, the material is carefully collected, sorted, and eventually sold to companies that will turn it into new products.

The yearlong study, which comes to a close in July, involved securing a contract with the City of Baltimore to complete a pilot deconstruction project involving 50 row houses. Over the course of a year, the project leaders tracked the volume of extracted wood, analyzed the costs associated with the deconstruction activities, and built partnerships with organizations to establish a distribution chain and market outlet. The final report is scheduled to be released next month.

Although many municipalities have found innovative ways to use their urban wood supplies, this is the first study that stresses the idea that urban forestry can stimulate lasting economic growth in cities. A key component of the urban woody biomass project is to create more job opportunities for chronically unemployed and under-employed urban residents. In addition to the countless jobs that could be created with companies that use the biomass material in manufacturing, the researchers estimate that Baltimore gained more than 60 jobs as a result of the pilot project.

The team hopes that a permanent sort yard would serve as an industry hub, with up to 100 new employees collecting and sorting material from construction sites, local arborists, and urban wood waste collection efforts.

Other than being economically friendly, urban deconstruction and recycling efforts are environmentally friendly too. In a world with finite natural resources, re-purposing existing material will be an integral part of building a more sustainable tomorrow. The foresters of the future may have to trade their axes in for jackhammers to reap the fruits of this urban landscape, but their goal will remain the same: manage local resources in a sustainable way that’s beneficial for the community, local industry, and the environment.

For more information, see this Research in Progress report.


Brashaw Takes the Helm of Forest Products Marketing Unit

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) welcomes Brian Brashaw to the position of Program Manager for the Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU). He took the helm in early May.

Brashaw comes to the Forest Service from the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), where he served as Program Manager. In that role, he led a highly successful technology development and transfer group that helped a wide range of wood products businesses in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Through the NRRI, Brashaw has had a long, productive relationship with the Forest Products Laboratory in the areas of nondestructive evaluation of wood materials, utilization of urban wood waste, and timber bridges. Brashaw has a BS in Forest Management from UW-Stevens Point, a MS in Materials Science from Washington State University, and a PhD in Forest Resources from Mississippi State University. His educational and career path were established living in Wisconsin’s Nicolet National Forest as a youth with goals in forestry and forest products.

“Under Brian’s leadership, the FPMU will help ensure healthy, sustainable forests that are more resilient to disturbances by creating high-value, high-volume markets from woody biomass,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station.

Since 1996, the FPMU has maintained a strong partnership with State and Private Forestry and other mission areas of the Forest Service. With its emphasis on technology transfer, the FPMU helps accelerate forest restoration, improve economic conditions, expand wood utilization and marketing opportunities, improve economic conditions, and create new jobs.

Forest biomass cleanup

Forest biomass cleanup

“It has been a dream of mine, growing up in the north woods of Wisconsin, to have the opportunity to work with the U.S. Forest Service.  It is an honor to be a part of this great organization,” said Brashaw.

FPL is excited to have such a qualified and enthusiastic leader on board.