United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains form JV to develop new sustainable aviation fuel technology using ethanol
01 February 2023
United Airlines, Tallgrass, and Green Plains announced a new joint venture—Blue Blade Energy—to develop and then commercialize a novel Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) technology that uses ethanol as its feedstock. United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains will invest up to a combined $50 million in the joint venture.
United has entered into an offtake agreement with Blue Blade Energy for up to 135 million gallons of ethanol-based SAF annually and up to 2.7 billion gallons in total.
If the technology is successful, Blue Blade is expected to proceed with the construction of a pilot facility in 2024, followed by a full-scale facility that could begin commercial operations by 2028. The offtake agreement could provide for enough SAF to fly more than 50,000 flights annually between United’s hub airports in Chicago and Denver.
Blue Blade’s new SAF technology was developed by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains will each provide their unique industry expertise to help develop the joint venture. Under this collaborative approach:
Tallgrass will manage research and development of the technology, including pilot plant development, and will manage the construction of the production facility.
Green Plains will supply the low-carbon ethanol feedstock, and use its ethanol industry expertise to manage operations once the pilot facility is constructed.
United Airlines will assist with SAF development, fuel certification and into-wing logistics, and has also agreed to purchase up to 2.7 billion gallons of SAF produced from the joint venture.
If the technology is commercialized, the location of Blue Blade’s initial plant would allow easy access to low-carbon feedstock from Green Plains’ Midwest ethanol production facilities. While the initial SAF facility intends to use ethanol, the technology has the capability to work with any alcohol-based feedstock as its fuel source.
Blue Blade Energy marks one of the largest direct investments from United Airlines Ventures (UAV), United’s corporate venture arm, into SAF. Launched in 2021, UAV targets startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets. United has aggressively pursued strategic investments in SAF producers and revolutionary technologies including carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft and air taxis.