Oh sure, you say now that you miss traveling. But just wait until the next time you’re back at the airport, with all the noise, the waiting, the weird chairs … and of course, the burning of jet fuel dragging the planet ever closer to ecological collapse. Flying from here to the east coast produces one metric ton of carbon dioxide — five tons if you go to Asia — and knowing that we’re contributing to the death of the only Earth we have is just one of the many stresses of taking a flight.
The Port of Seattle would like to do something about that.
Last month the Port held a special study session to discuss the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which can reduce lifetime carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to traditional jet fuel. But “can” isn’t the same as “will.” Is this stuff for real? Dirty-fuel companies sure would like you to think so.
Companies like Shell and BP have declared SAF to be “the future of energy,” which if you heard that coming out of the mouth of a character in a Batman movie you’d be like “oh, there’s the villain.” And here’s the thing to keep in mind about this technology: SAF isn’t pollution-free. It still produces emissions.
The difference is that the fuel isn’t pulled out of the ground, like fossil fuel; it’s (sometimes) made out of plants, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere. That’s how fuel companies can get away with saying that SAF reduces emissions over its lifespan. Carbon gets sucked up by plants, plants are turned into fuel, fuel is burned in airplanes, and then the airplanes spit carbon back into the air, where it becomes a problem for someone else.
Still, it’s better than burning up dinosaurs, or at least the Port hopes so. SAF is already manufactured in Washington by companies like REG — but for now, it’s more lucrative for those companies to send it all to California and British Columbia than use it here. That could soon change thanks to the passage of a clean fuels standard during the just-finished legislative session. The Port says that new regulations will allow them to offer incentives to SAF producers to keep the stuff local, like a delicious artisanal kombucha.
“Washington state is poised to become a leader in fighting against climate change and creating green collar jobs,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Fred Felleman in a statement.
If they can pull it off, the Port is in an excellent position to expand SAF use in the Pacific Northwest. They already have the infrastructure, with giant fuel storage tanks and transportation systems that don’t need any retrofitting to use SAF. They have a study identifying ways to make more SAF in the PNW. They already have relationships with fuel producers, airlines, and other airports. And they have a head start on making SAF cheaper to use, with a 2017 study into ways that airports can make the switch without having to pay for it.
So that all seems quite promising. But at this point, it’s not even a promise — it’s not even a specific proposal. The Port says they’re committed to reducing emissions; they say that they’re in position to do so. Now we just need them to, you know, actually do it.