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United Airlines’ biofuel initiative

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9461144263_590dedf9f5_zUnited Airlines has launched an initiative that will use biofuel to help power flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And according to a Washington Post report, United eventually plans to expand its use of biofuels to all flights operating out of LAX. It’s a pretty big deal because while biofuel has been tested by several airlines, it’s the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations.

The renewable fuel used to power United’s aircraft is supplied by an LA refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP. In 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period.

The launch last week was the first under that agreement. The flights will use a mixture of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel. United said that the biofuel will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 60 percent compared with regular fuel.

“This is a long-term investment toward the future of sustainability for our company and for our communities,” said Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director of environmental affairs and sustainability, quoted in the Post report. She added that “it’s also very business-smart and helps our community with clean energy jobs as well.”

Other airlines are getting into the act: Southwest Airlines and FedEx have reportedly contracted with a company called Red Rock Biofuels to start buying renewable jet fuel. In late 2009 KLM formed a joint venture to develop sustainable biofuel – bio-kerosene – on a large scale. The SkyEnergy the consortium included KLM, North Sea Petroleum and Spring Associates.

In addition, marine transportation may jump on board as well. At the end of January, the U.S. Navy formally launched its “Great Green Fleet,” a deployment of warships powered by renewable fuel, also supplied by AltAir. AltAir is reportedly contracted to supply 77 million gallons of the fuel overall by September of this year.

Last month the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions standard for aircraft edged closer to final adoption. And in 2011, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed a set of fuel efficiency standards for new ships, which went into effect last year.

However, while each move was an important step forward, both the marine and aviation standards apply only to new equipment, meaning existing planes and ships have not been required to upgrade.

The use of biofuel is thus one possibility for existing aircraft and vessels to cut down on their emissions without having to upgrade their engines or other aspects of their design or engineering. So-called “drop-in” renewable fuels are designed to work safely with existing engines, although as with the case of the United flights, they sometimes require mixing with traditional fuels.

It’s a start.

Image: United 747-451 by Christian Junker via Flickr CC

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Written by William DiBenedetto

14 March, 2016 at 6:00 am

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