United Airlines deploys Honeywell’s green jet fuel at LAX

By Katie Fletcher | March 15, 2016

On Friday, Honeywell UOP announced that United Airlines will use the company’s green jet fuel to power 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco as part of its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and support energy diversification. The departure of United Flight 708 from Los Angeles International Airport marked the first U.S. airline use of commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel for regularly scheduled flights.

This announcement closely follows news last week that the producer of the fuel, AltAir Paramount LLC, is using Honeywell’s UOP renewable jet fuel process to convert a variety of sustainable feedstocks into the green fuel at the first dedicated commercial-scale renewable jet fuel production facility.

The 35-million-gallons-per-year (MMgy) plant is located near the Los Angeles International Airport and has also produced Honeywell green diesel, which is a drop-in replacement for diesel made from petroleum, using the same process technology. “They can adjust operations to produce both fuels,” said Jim Andersen, business director with renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell UOP. “It’s a very flexible technology in terms of feedstock. We can take different types of feedstocks (animal fats, vegetable oils and greases), and the use of the different feedstocks doesn’t change the product quality.”

AltAir joins Diamond Green Diesel as a renewable fuels producer using Honeywell UOP technology. Back in May 2014, Diamond Green Diesel began using UOP LLC’s trademarked UOP/Eni Ecofining process technology to power its commercial advanced biofuel facility in Louisiana, capable of producing more than 130 MMgy of renewable diesel.

Andersen said that this Diamond Green Diesel facility was the first commercial use of the Honeywell UOP technology process, and since then the company has worked with AltAir and others to develop projects for implementing a renewable jet fuel using the process. In aircraft, Honeywell green jet fuel can replace as much as 50 percent of the petroleum jet fuel used in flight, without any changes to the aircraft technology, while meeting the current ASTM jet fuel specifications for flight. According to Andersen, the renewable jet fuel can offer a 65 to 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared with petroleum-based fuels. United will fly on a blend of 30 percent renewable jet fuel and 70 percent petroleum jet fuel. The company will purchase 15 million gallons of renewable jet fuel from AltAir over a three-year period.

By utilizing idled assets at the site of a prior petroleum refinery in Paramount, California, the existing infrastructure was retrofitted to Honeywell’s technology. “There is a much lower capital investment required compared to building brand new facilities, typically about one-third of the capital is required when you do a revamp,” Andersen explained.

While United Airlines has a contract to purchase the renewable jet fuel, the military purchased green diesel this year also produced at the facility in Paramount. In January, the renewable diesel was deployed by the U.S. Navy with its Great Green Fleet exercise. AltAir’s fuel blend was made from a combination of feedstocks like inedible waste, fats, oils and greases, and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. The Defense Logistics Agency awarded a contract to AltAir for 77.6 million gallons of the alternative fuel blend at a cost to DLA of $2.05 per gallon, making it cost competitive with traditional fuel. The fuel was purchased through a partnership between the Department of the Navy and U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at making alternative fuel blends a regular part of the military's bulk operational fuel supply. Of the $2.05, the USDA contributed about 14 cents per gallon. For the initial delivery in January, AltAir prepared 1.34 million gallons of F-76 type Naval Distillate Fuel containing 10 percent Honeywell renewable diesel and 90 percent petroleum-based fuel.

“We’ve worked quite a bit with the Navy from 2009 until present day to supply sufficient amounts of fuel for all of their testing,” Andersen said. “A few years ago, they were able to confirm that they could use not only the renewable marine diesel, the F-76 diesel they use, but also the navy jet fuel was tested on aircraft for the military, so we’re hoping soon we’ll not only be providing the F-76, but AltAir could be providing some jet fuel for the military.”

Besides military use, the Paramount refinery is also capable of producing transportation diesel fuel for commercial use. Andersen said up to an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions can occur using the green diesel fuel versus diesel from petroleum.

In regards to this commercial-scale activity of Honeywell’s in 2016, Andersen said, “It’s been several years in the making to get to this point, so it’s quite a significant milestone.”

He adds that the market for renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel has a global capacity of over 1 billion gallons per year, but, when looking at the overall fuel demands for the world, it’s only a very marginal percentage. “We obviously need to continue to get more projects installed and that means more feedstock becoming available,” Andersen said. “We know the technology works—that’s been proven—we know that the product we’re producing is superior to even petroleum-based fuels—it’s a very clean low-emissions fuel—the key is to get feedstock.”

Andersen said about 80 percent of production cost is associated with feedstock. “We look at different types of feeds to help keep the cost of production as low as possible by being able to shift from one feed to another when market prices change a little bit, but probably the biggest challenge is getting more and more feedstocks on the market,” Andersen said. “There is enough for near-term growth that we see, but long term to get large volumes out there I think we need to see energy crops planted in larger amounts. I think working with organizations like the USDA and others to help make that a reality is one of the biggest challenges that we have.”

Andersen is hopeful that the commercial application of Honeywell’s renewable fuel process technology will only continue to expand from the three commercial facilities operating using the technology today. The three include Diamond Green Diesel’s facility in Louisiana; a project in Venice, Italy, with Eni S.p.A.; and now the partnership with AltAir in Paramount.

Currently, the company is going through a detailed design phase on another project in the U.S. and one in the Middle East. Additionally, Honeywell has projects that are expecting to go into design phase later this year once funding is acquired. “There is quite a bit of interest and its being driven by the airline industry and by the U.S. military in terms of the product demand,” Andersen said. “I think even the U.S. refining industry is starting to take more interest in the renewable technologies. They have their renewable obligations under the EPA’s RFS2 program and I think the refining industry is looking at how do they comply with those requirements, and they see this technology and how it’s producing substantial volumes—it’s not just demonstration-scale anymore—it’s a real solution they can adapt today, and we’re starting to see some of that interest.”