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The Boeing Co.Works on Jet Fuel From Algae

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The Boeing Co. has spent more than three years working with other groups to study making jet fuel from algae and other plants. Boeing’s new exhibit at the Future of Flight Museum at Paine Field demonstrates how quickly algae can grow and become a source of fuel.

The aviation industry is in a better position to spark extensive use of biofuels than the auto industry, according to Boeing. There are only about 20,000 commercial aircraft in the world and only several hundred fueling stations, making for a smaller and less complex network.

The company has always been motivated to cut jet fuel costs, Scott said, and the recent volatility in the market only added to the incentive, he said.

An area the size of Maryland could grow enough algae to fuel all commercial jet flights in the world, according to Boeing.

Very little algae is currently being grown commercially for fuel, but that’s expected to change soon, said John Williams, who handles publicity for the Seattle-based Algal Biomass Organization, a trade group of which Boeing is a member.

Most is being grown in labs, financed by government grants and private companies.

Within a year there could be several commercial projects, Williams said. Algae can be grown in many different ways, either in enclosed settings or open ponds, he said. It grows quickly — the Boeing exhibit at the Future of Flight has algae reproducing in several separate small tanks, with narratives and a short video about prospects for use of the fuel.

A Seattle company, Targeted Growth, is studying which types of algae will be the best for biofuel production, he said. There are more than 30,000 types of algae, Scott said.

“We’re trying to create a portfolio of fuels,” Scott said.

Boeing isn’t looking to get into the fuel-growing business, he said. Rather, it’s trying to work with environmental organizations, airlines, engine builders, fuel suppliers and scientists to move the process along, Scott said.

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