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Partnership Could Clear The Runway For A More Sustainable Industry

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Microsoft And Alaska Airlines Partner To Utilize Alternative Fuel Sources

Microsoft didn’t get to be a $1 trillion company by thinking small, and that extends to its policies about the environment. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has committed to being carbon negative by 2030 and removing more carbon from the environment than it has ever emitted by 2050. Microsoft took another step toward that goal a few months ago when it announced plans to buy alternative jet fuel for some of its Alaska Airlines flights to reduce the carbon footprint of its commercial air travel.

One hope is that the deal will help create greater demand for alternative jet fuel throughout the corporate world and lead to more such partnerships in the future.

Alternative jet fuel, also known as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), is made out of eco-friendly resources such as waste oil, feedstock, and carbon captured from the air. It is then blended with traditional jet fuel, which is refined from petroleum. The alternative fuel will be distributed by Amsterdam-based SkyNRG at Los Angeles International Airport. SkyNRG is a leader in the field, having helped more than 30 airlines worldwide reduce their carbon footprints.

SAF supplied by SkyNRG under the agreement is produced in the U.S. by World Energy. It delivers a carbon reduction of about 75 percent compared with fossil jet fuel. SkyNRG guarantees the sustainability of its fuel through the company’s certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).

Under a separate agreement, Microsoft will buy SAF credits from SkyNRG. The SAF will then be delivered to Alaska Airlines’ airport fueling system. The two companies have also discussed expanding the program in the future.

“After a decade advancing sustainable aviation fuel, this partnership marks a significant milestone in the work to make SAF a commercially-viable aviation fuel alternative,” Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden said. “SAF enables us to fly cleaner and reduce our impact on the environment. However, we cannot do this alone — we must work together with other industries and business leaders …who are thinking big, to achieve our goals and grow the marketplace for SAF.”

One reason the partnership is important is because of the environmental impact of air travel, which accounts for around 12 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions from transportation.

No details were provided on how much the fuel will cost, or how much will be purchased. Microsoft did say the alternative fuel aims to reduce carbon emissions generated from business travel on its most common routes – from Seattle to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose, Calif. Microsoft ranks as Alaska Airlines’ second-biggest corporate customer, following Amazon.

Alaska Airlines has joined JetBlue, Delta, and United in committing to buying more sustainable fuel for their aircraft, though it’s still a small portion of their overall fuel consumption. The long-term goal is to increase the demand for alternative fuel, which would lead to higher production and lower costs.

“We hope this sustainable aviation fuel model will be used by other companies as a way to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel,” said Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Commercial Business.

The partnership between Microsoft and Alaska Airlines has gotten considerable attention, mostly because it’s the first of its kind among U.S. Seedsprint. This collaboration platform, which connects institutions and startups with technology scouts, noted on its website that the deal “has the potential to become a model for other companies to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel.”

Seedsprint added that Microsoft’s carbon-reduction targets “are among the most aggressive of any large corporation to date.” Reducing its carbon emissions for business travel is only one of Microsoft’s goals. The company also established the Climate Innovation Fund to help achieve its mission to become carbon negative. That fund plans to invest $1 billion of Microsoft’s money over the next four years into new technologies that facilitate carbon reduction and removal.

Alaska Airlines has also racked up an enviable record on the carbon reduction front. The SeaTac, Wash.-based company has been rated the most fuel-efficient carrier in the U.S. seven years in a row by the International Council on Clean Transportation. According to its website, Alaska Airlines burns 12 percent to 13 percent less fuel – and emits 12 percent to 13 percent less carbon dioxide – than the average U.S. airline. It does so by maintaining a modern fleet, making aerodynamic improvements, and implementing operational innovations such as using Required Navigation Performance (RNP) technology for shorter routes between destinations.

Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier, Horizon Air, also have the most comprehensive inflight recycling programs of any U.S. airline. Under these programs, the carriers recycle cups, bottles, paper, cans, and plastic on every domestic flight, and compost used coffee grounds.


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