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Fast Facts about Clean Fuels

November 5, 2020

Putting out your trash can, driving by a pasture scented with cow manure, or getting a whiff of the deep fryer from the fast food restaurant next door might not spark your lust for travel. But these surprising sources of clean energy and renewable fuels could very well power your future vacations, while helping to lessen the impact of travel on the environment.

Clean fuels are renewable fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, renewable natural gas, and electricity generated from sustainable and renewable resources rather than fossil fuels. The Port of Seattle has been advocating for the use of clean and renewable fuels for decades and has been taking concrete steps to make clean fuels a reality. 

Why clean fuels?

On October 22, the Port held a Clean Fuels Forum with industry leaders, state policy makers and researchers from Washington State University on the future of clean fuels for Washington state. 

Clean fuels can reduce up to 100 percent of “lifecycle” carbon emissions (Source: GNA Clean Transportation and Energy Consultants), and both renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel can reduce harmful particulate pollution by 30 to 70 percent. (Sources: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and STATE OF THE INDUSTRY REPORT ON AIR QUALITY EMISSIONS FROM SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE JET FUELS.  Prepared for: ACRP 02-80 Transportation Research Board of The National Academies).

Want to know more? Here are a few facts about clean and renewable fuels at the Port and SEA Airport:

1.    Waste products can be turned into clean power, gas, and liquid fuels.

Clean fuels and renewable fuels can be generated from many surprising sources, including: 

  • Municipal solid waste in landfills, a.k.a. garbage
  • Forest residuals — the material left over after foresting like brush, small trees, branches, and treetops that would otherwise not be used
  • Livestock manure
  • Fats, oils, and grease (FOGs) like butter, animal fats, and used cooking oil 

Using these cleaner-burning fuels can reduce dependence upon fossil fuels and help reduce air pollution. Use of clean fuels can reduce toxic diesel particulate pollution by 34 to 70 percent. Similarly, renewable fuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 80 percent on a lifecycle basis.

2.    SEA Airport was the first airport in the country to adopt goals for use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

In 2017, The Port of Seattle Commission set the most aggressive goals of any airport for the implementation of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The goal is to power every flight fueled at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) with at least a 10 percent blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2028. 

This has been a high environmental priority since the Port began working with state and regional partners on sustainable fuels in 2008.

 3.    SEA Airport is the first airport in the country to heat the terminal using gas generated by landfill waste.

In October 2020 the airport became the first airport in the country to purchase thermal renewable natural gas (RNG), a low-carbon natural gas alternative produced from landfill waste, to heat the airport terminal.  This decision to switch from higher carbon fossil fuel to renewable waste-derived fuel will enable the airport to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent in 2021 almost 10 years early! The goal was initially targeted for 2030.

Over the 10-year lifespan of the contract, using RNG at SEA Airport will remove the emissions equivalent of: 

  • Heating 40,000 Seattle homes 
  • Taking 24,000 passenger vehicles off the road

4.    There’s enough waste generated in Washington State to power future flights. 

A February 2020 report by Washington State University and the Port of Seattle confirms there is enough available forest residuals and municipal solid waste to produce up to 220-290 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) per year in the Pacific Northwest. Over 600 million gallons of conventional jet fuel is dispensed at SEA per year.

That would be enough fuel to exceed the Port of Seattle’s goal to offer a 10 percent SAF jet fuel blend at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) by 2028.

5.    Washington State pays more for clean fuels than our neighbors because we don’t have a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)

A Washington LCFS will create a market for low carbon fuels by requiring fuel suppliers to lower the carbon intensity of the fuels they produce, or purchase credits generated and sold by other low carbon fuel producers in the market. As shown in California and Oregon, an LCFS increases demand for low carbon fuels, grows in-state low carbon fuel production, and drives the cost of low carbon fuels to price parity with conventional fossil fuels.

Port Commissioner Fred Felleman spoke about the necessity of establishing a clean fuel standard in Crosscut.

Increasing access to sustainably produced, cleaner fuels will reduce the environmental impact of trade and travel on our health, environment, and climate. It's time that Washington had a clean fuel standard consistent with those already established in Oregon and California. The standards in our neighboring states have created incentives both to use cleaner, less emitting fuels and to rely on jobs to support their production and the transition to transportation electrification.

Both California and Oregon created strong demand for these fuels through legislation that sets standards for cleaner fuels. These policies, referred to as a Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California and a Clean Fuel Standard in Oregon, have dramatically increased the demand and availability of renewable diesel, renewable natural gas, and other renewable fuels at much lower prices than we currently see in Washington.

A LCFS is a win/win solution for improving the climate, enhancing the transition of fuel supplies to lower carbon options with a market-based approach while creating opportunities for jobs and new businesses in rural communities.

For example, in states with an LCFS, dairy farms can create new revenue when their dairy wastes (e.g., manure) are converted into Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). These farms receive marketable credits for sale at high value to fossil fuel refiners.

Achieving the Port’s goal — to provide a 10 percent blend of Sustainable Aviation Fuel — will make a significant contribution toward the Port of Seattle, the State of Washington, and the aviation industry achieving our climate goals. However, we need a Low Carbon Fuel Standard to get there. Otherwise fuels produced in Washington will be sold in California, Oregon, or British Columbia which already have such incentives. 

6. Poor air quality has a disproportionate impact on communities of color

Communities of color and those with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and lower levels of education experience greater health risks from poor air quality and pollution. In the Puget Sound region, maritime engines contribute about 23 percent of diesel emissions (Source: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency) and port facilities are primarily located in census tracts that rank highly for diesel pollution and disproportionate impact on the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map.

Studies show that cleaner, renewable fuels, like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and electricity reduce toxic diesel particulate pollution by 34 to 70 percent. (Sources: Western WA Clean Cities. Renewable Diesel in Washington Fact Sheet; Durbin, T.D. et al. (2011). CARB Assessment of the Emissions from the use of Biodiesel as a Motor Vehicle Fuel in California “Biodiesel Characterization and NOx Mitigation Study.”)

Similarly, renewable fuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 80 percent. (Source: Western Washington Clean Cities

Teenagers at a Duwamish enviornmental event

A Washington LCFS will represent a significant step forward in equity and environmental justice efforts that benefit near-port communities by reducing diesel particulate matter, which is linked to human health impacts and even increased mortality from COVID-19.

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