United Airlines, AltAir Fuels execute biofuel purchase agreement
United Airlines has executed a definitive purchase agreement with AltAir Fuels for cost-competitive, sustainable, advanced biofuels at commercial scale, representing a historic milestone for aviation. 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 5 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).
"This is a great day for United and the aviation biofuels industry. This agreement underscores United's efforts to be a leader in alternative fuels as well as our efforts to lead commercial aviation as an environmentally responsible company," said Jimmy Samartzis, managing director for global environmental affairs and sustainability at United. "We're excited about what this strategic partnership with AltAir means for United, the industry, the environment, and for our customers."
"United Airlines has been a strategic partner for several years as we work to establish our biofuel facility," said Tom Todaro, AltAir CEO. "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 has partnered with an existing oil refiner for the operation of its first commercial facility and use of the refiner's existing refinery near Los Angeles, Calif. This partnership is taking idled refining equipment and retooling it to increase the nation's energy supply – positively impacting the southern California economy and providing the opportunity to sustainably power LAX flights.
Through process technology developed by Honeywell's UOP, AltAir is retrofitting the existing refinery to produce renewable biofuel. AltAir has worked extensively with Honeywell's UOP to demonstrate the commercial viability of the Honeywell Green Jet process. Utilizing this technology, licensed from UOP, 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.
These advanced biofuels are drop-in replacements for petroleum-based fuel, requiring no modification to factory-standard engines or aircraft, with which they are fully compatible. This fuel provides the same performance as conventional, petroleum-based jet fuel. AltAir Fuels' renewable jet fuel is expected to achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis.
"This refinery is important for two timely and significant reasons," said AltAir President and COO Bryan Sherbacow. "First, the industry is delivering on the promise of commercial production of advanced biofuels that move beyond additives, like ethanol and biodiesel, to drop-in, replacement low-carbon fuels. Second, this project demonstrates the practical efficiencies these fuels allow by fully integrating into an operating petroleum refinery."
United will support AltAir Fuels' efforts to incorporate internationally recognized sustainability standards, such as those being developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. 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 made history as 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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 percent 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.