United Airlines has signed a new deal aimed at advancing the commercial production of aviation biofuel.
The US carrier has completed a purchase agreement with AltAir Fuels that will see the redevelopment of an existing petroleum refinery in California to become a 30 million gallon (114m litre) biofuel refinery.
The two companies have worked together since 2009, when United agreed to buy 15m gallons of lower-carbon, renewable jet fuel over a three-year period. AltAir expects to begin delivering five million gallons of renewable jet fuel per year to United starting in 2014. United will use the biofuel on flights operating from Los Angeles.
“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 United’s managing director for global environmental affairs & sustainability, Jimmy Samartzis.
Working with Honeywell, AltAir is now retrofitting the refinery near Los Angeles to produce biofuel. Upon completion, it will be the first refinery anywhere in the world capable of in-line production of both renewable jet and diesel fuels, converting non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes into approximately 30m gallons of low-carbon, advanced biofuels and chemicals per year.
According to United, this fuel will provides the same performance as conventional, petrol-based jet fuel, but produces least a 50% less greenhouse gas emissions.
“This refinery is important for two timely and significant reasons,” said AltAir’s president & chief operating officer, 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.”
In November 2011, United operated the first US commercial biofuel flight, flying between Houston and Chicago, powered by a blend of biofuel and traditional jet fuel.