United Airlines Buys Big Into Biofuels

Could the move help clean up a notoriously dirty industry?
UnfinishedPortraitmaker/Flickr

UnfinishedPortraitmaker/Flickr

United Airlines is taking a significant step forward in its use of biofuel with a plan to buy 15 million gallons of the stuff during the next three years.

The airline signed an agreement with AltAir Fuels to buy fuel it will use on flights departing Los Angeles beginning next year. United says the renewable jet fuel is “price competitive” with the fuel now used by airlines and should, on a lifecycle basis, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent.

“This is a great day for United and the aviation biofuels industry,” Jimmy Samartzis, the airline’s director of environmental issues, said in a statement.

The news comes after a period of relative quiet about the use of aviation biofuel. There was a flurry of activity in the time between 2009 and 2011 as airlines around the world announced demonstration flights and passenger flights using a variety of biofuels. Even the military was burning biofuel in fighter jets. But the high cost of alternative fuels at the time made it unlikely cost-conscious airlines would embrace them for the long term.

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