'If you build it, we will buy it' says airline CEO on biojet fuel

| November 10, 2011

The second week in November could go down as one of the most significant weeks for advanced biofuels, airline companies and the use of biofuel-blended jet fuel in the U.S. Early in the week, United Continental Holdings subsidiary Continental Airlines sent the first U.S. commercial flight from Houston to Chicago fueled by an algae-based biojet fuel blend supplied by Solazyme. Only two days later, Alaska Airlines sent the first two of 75 scheduled flights from Seattle and Portland to Washington D.C. on a 20 percent blend of used cooking oil-based renewable jet fuel supplied from Geismar, La.-based Dynamic Fuels.

Bill Ayer, Alaska Air Group CEO, called the week for U.S. Aviation “historic,” noting that “sustainable biofuels are key to aviation’s future,” and that “commercial airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels.” For Ayer, the use of advanced biofuels like those provided by Dynamic Fuels not only help the aviation industry fly cleaner, but the use will also help insulate the airline industry from huge price swings in traditional jet fuel.

Pete McDonald stated that United’s use of a biofuel-blended fuel for the Boeing 737 plane was “significant,” adding that such flights could someday “play a meaningful role in powering everyone’s trip on a airline.” The use of biofuel-based jet fuel comes only four months after such fuel was approved for use.

Alaska Air Group estimated that the biofuel blend that will be used in the 75 flights will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 134 metric tons, or 10 percent, and if the biofuel blend was used for an entire year, GHG emissions savings would equal the removal of 64,000 cars from the road. SkyNRG, an aviation biofuels broker, supplied Alaska Airlines with the fuel, and the flight happened only six months after the airline joined a group called the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, a 10-month effort aimed at developing an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest.

For United, the biofuels flight was a milestone for its commitment to Eco-Skies, a segment of both United and Continental aimed at improving aircraft fuel efficiency and sustainability. Those efforts at sustainability gained momentum after United also announced that the company has signed a letter of intent with Solazyme to purchase 20 million gallons of algae-derived jet fuel per year, all scheduled for delivery through 2014. “Looking at United, a company that understands the sustainability of tomorrow means environmental responsibility today,” said Jonathon Wolfson, CEO for Solazyme, “we see a true pioneer in the future of flight.”

But it may have been the comments of Ayer that indicate the significance for advanced biofuel producers seeking a large market for their future products. “What we need is an adequate, affordable and sustainable supply,” Ayers said of biofuel-blended jet fuel. “To the biofuels industry, we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”