GHG Emissions, Commercial, Sourcing Renewables  -  December 17, 2018

United Airlines to power flights with biofuel

United Airlines is expected to use biofuel created from a waste-to-energy plant for their planes.

Fulcrum BioEnergy announced plans to build a $600 million alternative fuel plant in Gary, Ind. with construction expected to start in 2020. Within 18 months to two years, the facility could produce 33 million gallons of fuel from 700,000 tons of waste per year.

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, United Airlines invested $30 million in Fulcrum in 2015, giving them the right to purchase 15 million gallons per year from the Gary plant. The airline is “fully planning to exercise those rights,” said Aaron Robinson, the airline’s senior manager of environmental strategy and sustainability.

The agreement will allow United to eventually purchase as much as 90 million gallons of fuel per year from six Fulcrum plants. The Gary location is the company’s second; the first is currently under construction near Reno, Nev. and is expected to begin operations in 2020.

Replacing jet fuel with biofuel is part of the airline’s strategy for meeting their 2050 total to cut GHG emissions in half, as biofuel would reduce their emissions by about 80%. While Robinson said the cost of the biofuel is competitive with traditional jet fuel, the report said the potential biofuel use is “a drop in the bucket for the airline, which consumed more than 2.5 billion gallons in the first nine months of this year.

The report noted that it isn’t clear which airports will use the biofuel. Some states offer incentives to companies delivering biofuels, though Illinois, home to Chicago-based United Airlines headquarters, is not among them.

 

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