United Airlines Invests In Alternative Fuel Company, Plans To Use Biofuel In Trips This Summer

Last year, Southwest Airlines announced it would start using biofuels created from forest remnants to power some flights beginning in 2016. Today, United Airlines raised the stakes in the alternative jet fuel game, announcing plans to fly a plane this summer using fuel generated from farm waste and oils derived from animal fats, while also investing millions of dollars in other alternative fuel processes. 

The New York Times reports that Chicago-based United Airlines’ summer flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco is part of the company’s ongoing effort to cut down on carbon emission though the use of alternative jet fuels.

In addition to sharing plans for the summer flights, United announced it would invest $30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels.

California-based Fulcrum has developed and certified a technology that turns household trash into aviation fuel. The company says its alternative fuel could cut an airline’s emission by about 80% when compared to traditional fuel.

United expects to begin receiving fuel from Fulcrum in 2018, with quantities reaching 90 million gallons a year by 2020.

That amount of alternative fuel could fuel up to 20,000 flights a year, but even that’s just a drop in the bucket for a major airline like United. Last year, the airline used an estimated 3.9 billion gallons of jet fuel.

The airline’s deal with Fulcrum isn’t its first foray into alternative fuels. United conducted its first test flight using biofuels in 2009, and again using algae-based fuels in 2011, the NYT reports.

In the more immediate future, United expects to receive nearly 15 million gallons of biofuel from AltAir Fuels this summer to power the Los Angeles to San Francisco flights.

United entered into a deal with AltAir, which generates biofuels out of nonedible natural oils and agricultural waste, back in 2013.

The company say that for the first few weeks after it acquires the AltAir fuel, four or five flights a day will use a mixture that is about 30% biofuel and 70% traditional jet fuel.

“The AltAir project serves as a catalyst intended to pave the way for the industry,” Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director for environmental affairs and sustainability, tells the NYT.

United and other airlines have been seeking out alternative fuel products in recent years after environmentalist and regulators began to raise concerns about the excessive release of carbon emissions from planes.

Back in 2012, Consumerist reported that a number of airlines were looking in to greener ways of flying planes, but were running into roadblocks by way of high costs and low availability.

Farm Waste and Animal Fats Will Help Power a United Jet [The New York Times]

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