Despite the widespread effort to promote alternative sources of power, we still don’t hear a lot about alternative jet fuel. That’s partly because of the large volumes of fuel that jets consume, which would require a reliable, mass-produced source of power.

And speaking of reliability, airlines are not something you want to experiment with. Any new source of fuel would have to have shown the highest standards of reliability before it was used in passenger jets.

This is not to say that airlines are not searching. Just this week, Boeing and Alaska Air teamed up with Washington State University to explore the production of locally made biomass for use in aircraft. The project will focus on biomass sources that are plentiful in the Pacific Northwest, including oilseeds, wood byproducts and algae, aka pond scum.

The partnership is the latest development in an industry seeking a new paradigm and increasingly focusing on, yes, pond scum. In recent years, whenever alternative jet fuel has been seriously discussed, that discussion has typically turned to algae.

Two years ago, Wired Magazine noted that the case for jet fuel made from algae was compelling: it’s cheap, it is grown all over the world, and it appears that it can be harvested without disrupting the food supply.

There is still a problem of scale. Today the biomass industry is not nearly large enough to steadily produce a large supply of fuel from algae or any other plant source. But the momentum is building. The College of William and Mary this week launched a new project to study the production of biofuel from algae harvested in a lake near campus. It says that contaminated storm runoff has fueled the growth of algae in the lake, and by removing it, it should restore a friendlier habitat for fish and plant life.