United Airlines has become the first US airline to begin use of commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel for regularly scheduled flights, beginning with the departure of United Flight 708 from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The launch marks a milestone in the commercial aviation industry by moving beyond demonstration flights and test programs to the use of advanced biofuels for United’s ongoing revenue operations.
United has agreed to purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable biofuel from AltAir Paramount over a three-year period. The biofuel will be mixed with traditional jet fuel at a 30/70 blend ratio: 30% biofuel, 70% traditional fuel. The airline has begun using the biofuel in its daily operations at LAX, storing and delivering it in the same way as traditional fuel.
The 15 million gallons of biofuel is enough to power the equivalent of 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
To highlight this achievement, United will operate flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco with the dedicated use of AltAir Paramount renewable fuel for two weeks, while also integrating this fuel into its regular operations at the airport.
United has collaborated with AltAir since 2009 with a common goal of bringing an ongoing source of sustainable aviation biofuels to an airport. 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.
The facility converts sustainably sourced non-edible, natural oils and agricultural wastes into jet fuel using technology from UOP, a Honeywell company, and is expected to provide a greater than 60% 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.
In 2009, United became the first US carrier to perform a biofuel demonstration flight. In 2011, United became the first US carrier to operate a commercial advanced biofuel flight. Last year, United announced a $30-million equity investment in US-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. (Earlier post.)
The Fulcrum investment represents the single largest investment by a US airline in alternative fuels.
AltAir Paramount is a subsidiary of Alon USA Energy with its partners being Vandewater Capital Holdings and New Energy Capital.