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Delta invests $2 million to investigate potential biofuel production facility

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US airline Delta Air Lines has announced it will invest $2 million (€1.8 million) to carry out a feasibility study for a biofuel production facility, in partnership with Northwest Advanced Bio-fuels (NWABF).

The potential biofuel production facility will produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – as well as other biofuel products – and is expected to be located in Washington State. The SAF could be used in the airline’s operations at stations in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Led by NWABF, the project would use wood residue deposits and wood slash from forest floors as the feedstock for the biofuel, which would quality under and approved carbon-reducing pathway recognised by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM).

"While Delta continues to take actions toward our long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% 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," said Alison Lathrop, Delta's managing director for global environment, sustainability and compliance.

Delta expects the feasibility study to be complete by the middle of 2020, with first biofuel delivered by NWABF by the end of 2023.

"This single project could provide approximately 10% of Delta's annual jet fuel consumption in the West Coast region and, if successful, could become the blueprint for future projects to support Delta's goal to further reduce its carbon footprint," added Graeme Burnett, senior vice-president for fuel management at Delta. "This project has additional environmental benefits because it reduces wood residuals in forests, which can increase potential fire hazards and inhibit future tree growth."

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."

"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 needed jobs in the rural and timber-dependent regions of the Pacific Northwest," concluded Michael Wolcott, co-director of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance and professor at Washington State University.

Earlier this year, Delta flew the first of 20 carbon-neutral new delivery flights from Airbus’ final assembly line in Alabama using biofuels and carbon offsets, in collaboration with Air BP.