United Airlines Launches of Commercial Flights Using Sustainable Biofuel - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Sourcing Renewables  -  March 15, 2016

United Airlines launches commercial flights using sustainable biofuel

United Airlines made history last week when it reportedly became the first U.S. airline to begin using commercial-scale volumes of aviation biofuel for regularly scheduled flights.

United said March 11 that it agreed to purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable biofuel from AltAir Paramount over a three-year period. The airline has begun using the biofuel in its daily operations at Los Angeles International Airport, storing and delivering it in the same way as traditional fuel. 

The aviation industry has been a relative bright spot in biofuel’s otherwise recently checkered past. The biofuels industry has taken heat for using food (corn) to make fuel (ethanol), which can increase food prices. Life-cycle assessment of the biofuels manufacturing process has also called the technology’s GHG emissions footprint into question because farm equipment, fertilizers and delivery vehicles remain heavily fossil fuel reliant.

Aviation, however, appears to be a more sound application for some biofuel variants. This is being driven by the need to address greenhouse gas emissions and insulate airlines from jet fuel price volatility.

"United is a leader in the advancement of alternative fuels, and, along with our partners at AltAir Paramount, we are taking action every day to minimize our impact on the environment and explore new ways to improve efficiency," Angela Foster-Rice, United's managing director of environmental affairs and sustainability said in a statement.

AltAir retrofitted portions of the Paramount Petroleum Corporation – a subsidiary of Alon USA Energy – refinery in Paramount, California, to create a 35 million gallon per year advanced renewable fuel unit.

Further info about AltAir:

The facility converts sustainably sourced non-edible, natural oils and agricultural wastes into jet fuel and is expected to provide a greater than 60 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to fuel produced from traditional petroleum. AltAir's fuel meets the same standard as traditional jet fuel, ASTM D1655. In addition, AltAir is pursuing certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) - a global sustainability standard and certification system that recognizes biomass and biofuel producers that adhere to stringent social responsibility and environmental criteria.



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