United Airlines is quickly becoming one of the airline industry’s biggest proponents of biofuel. In 2011, United flew the first U.S. passenger flight powered by biofuel made from algae, and just this year, it received the World Bio Markets Award for Excellence in Advanced Biofuels. And most recently, on June 30, the carrier announced a US$30 million investment in California-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc.—a pioneer in developing and commercializing low-cost aviation biofuel made from household waste, expected to produce 80 percent less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel—marking the largest single investment by an American airline in alternative fuels.
The investment comes with an agreement between the two companies that, subject to availability, United can purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable fuel each year from Fulcrum at a price competitive with that of conventional jet fuel. According to an article by the New York Times, Fulcrum’s biofuel will cost less than US$1 per gallon, whereas conventional jet fuel often costs upwards of US$2.
United’s choice to invest in Fulcrum—which Cathay Pacific also invested in, in a smaller degree, last year—follows upon its 2013 purchase of 15 million gallons of biofuels from AltAir Fuels, another California-based producer. The first batch of of AltAir’s order is expected to be delivered to United’s hub at LAX this summer, and United plans to then start services from Los Angeles to San Francisco fueled by a mix of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent conventional jet fuel. If all goes well, United will then begin blending biofuel into its overall fuel supply.
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