United Airlines executed a definitive purchase agreement with AltAir Fuels (earlier post) for cost-competitive, sustainable, bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene at commercial scale. With United’s strategic partnership, AltAir Fuels will retrofit part of an existing petroleum refinery to become a 30-million gallon, advanced biofuel refinery near Los Angeles, Calif.
AltAir will produce low-carbon, renewable jet fuel and other renewable products. United has collaborated with AltAir Fuels since 2009 and has agreed to buy 15 million gallons of lower-carbon, renewable jet fuel over a three-year period, with the option to purchase more. The airline is purchasing the advanced biofuel at a price competitive with traditional, petroleum-based jet fuel, and AltAir expects to begin delivering five million gallons of renewable jet fuel per year to United starting in 2014.
United will use the biofuel on flights operating out of its Los Angeles hub (LAX).
United Airlines has been a strategic partner for several years as we work to establish our biofuel facility. We cannot overestimate how important this milestone is for the commercialization of sustainable aviation biofuels, and we at AltAir are proud that United is our first customer.—AltAir CEO Tom Todaro
AltAir has partnered with an existing oil refiner for the operation of its first commercial facility. AltAir is taking idled refining equipment at the refiner’s existing refinery near Los Angeles and retooling it with process technology developed by Honeywell’s UOP. AltAir says it has worked extensively with Honeywell’s UOP to demonstrate the commercial viability of the Honeywell Green Jet process. (Earlier post.)
The process licensed by UOP is based on traditional refining hydroprocessing technology. It adds hydrogen to remove the oxygen from the feedstock and then further refines this product to meet the required specifications. The process produces a bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene (bio-SPK) or Green Jet Fuel that is then blended with standard jet fuel for use in flight. The resulting fuel meets all of the jet fuel specifications set by qualifying agencies.
Utilizing this technology, the AltAir facility will be the first refinery internationally to be capable of in-line production of both renewable jet and diesel fuels. The facility will convert non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes into approximately 30 million gallons of low-carbon, advanced biofuels and chemicals per year.
AltAir Fuels’ drop-in renewable jet fuel is expected to achieve at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis.
United will support AltAir Fuels’ efforts to incorporate internationally recognized sustainability standards, such as those being developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB). RSB is an international, multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together farmers, companies, non-governmental organizations, experts, governments and inter-governmental agencies concerned with ensuring the sustainability of biomass production and processing.
In 2009, United Airlines became the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels derived from algae and jatropha. United also operated the first flight by a North American commercial airline using synthetic fuel made from natural gas in 2010.
In November 2011, United operated the first US commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels. Flight 1403 departed Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, making United the first US airline to fly passengers using a blend of sustainable, advanced biofuel and traditional petroleum-derived jet fuel.
In June 2012, United, along with the Boeing Company, Honeywell’s UOP, the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Clean Energy Trust, launched the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI). MASBI is an effort by more than 40 organizations across the aviation biofuels supply chain to accelerate the commercialization of advanced biofuels in the Midwest.
United Airlines is a signatory to the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, whose members represent approximately 32% of commercial aviation fuel demand. United signed a pledge to pursue the advancement of drop-in biofuels that achieve important sustainability criteria, work with leading organizations to achieve biofuel certification standards and take actions to enable commercial use of aviation biofuels.