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Alternative fuels

Eco-Skies
WBM AwardAt United, we're excited about the innovation that alternative fuels bring to the airline industry. As a leader in advancing alternative fuels, we are actively working with strategic partners to generate sustainable aviation biofuels capable of reducing our carbon emissions and providing energy diversification.

AltAir Fuels

One of these partners, AltAir Fuels, will begin regularly scheduled deliveries of sustainable biojet fuel to LAX in 2016. AltAir's Paramount, California-based refinery converts sustainable feedstocks, like non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes, into low-carbon, renewable jet fuel. This biofuel is price-competitive with traditional, petroleum-based jet fuel, but achieves a greater than 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on a life cycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel.

AltAir biofuel by the numbers

15 million
gallons
United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable aviation biofuel from AltAir over a three-year period, with the option to purchase more.
30/70 blend ratio

Our biofuel will be mixed with traditional jet fuel at a 30/70 blend ratio: 30% biofuel, 70% traditional fuel.

12,500 flights

The 15 million gallons of biofuel we plan to purchase from AltAir is enough to power the equivalent of 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

50+ jobs

The opening of the AltAir refinery created 65 jobs in Paramount, California, and an even larger number when including construction-related jobs.

2016

United will begin purchasing AltAir sustainable aviation biofuels for use out of our Los Angeles hub in 2016.

60% carbon dioxide emissions reduction

The AltAir biofuel is expected to provide greater than a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a life cycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel.

Bringing biofuels to LAX

United is making history by bringing commercial-scale, low-carbon, renewable jet fuel to our Los Angeles hub, in partnership with AltAir Fuels and Honeywell UOP. Using technology from Honeywell UOP, AltAir retrofitted a largely idled refinery in Paramount, California, into an advanced biofuel facility that produces 30 million gallons per year. This has brought new clean-energy jobs to the area.

The AltAir facility converts feedstock, such as agricultural wastes, and non-edible natural oils into low-carbon advanced biofuels. The renewable jet fuel is expected to provide more than a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel.

We have collaborated with AltAir since 2009, with a shared goal of bringing an ongoing source of sustainable aviation biofuels to an airport. United has agreed to buy up to 15 million gallons of low-carbon, renewable jet fuel over a three-year period, with the potential to purchase more. As the first commercial-scale purchase of alternative jet fuels by a U.S. airline that incorporates biofuels into regular operations, this accomplishment represents a historic milestone for aviation.

Why is United interested in biofuels?

We are committed to operating an environmentally sustainable and responsible airline. While aviation accounts for only 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, United recognizes that climate change is a significant global concern, and we’re dedicated to using fuel to reduce our carbon footprint. The aviation industry has established ambitious goals to reduce its carbon emissions, and we have made significant advances in fuel efficiency. Through new aircraft purchases, fleet modifications, operational improvements and other innovations, we have improved our fuel efficiency by 34 percent since 1994. Investing in biofuels is an important next step in continuing to operate a more sustainable airline. This investment is not only good for the environment, but also has the potential to guard against future oil price volatility and the cost of carbon regulations, while creating clean energy jobs in the communities we serve.

What are sustainable aviation biofuels?

The difference is in the source material, or feedstock. Whereas conventional jet fuel is derived from crude oil, sustainable aviation biofuels can be derived from sources like non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes. The AltAir facility converts this feedstock into sustainably produced jet fuel that is expected to provide a greater than 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis compared to fuel produced from crude oil. The fuel will be blended at 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel, and will be certified to the same performance standard as traditional jet fuel (ASTM Standard D-1655). The Federal Aviation Administration has deemed this fuel as acceptable for use on aircraft, provided it meets ASTM specifications. AltAir is pursuing certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) - a global sustainability standard and certification system that recognizes biomass and biofuel producers that adhere to strict social responsibility and environmental criteria.

AltAir biofuel FAQs

  • What does carbon reduction "on a lifecycle basis" mean?

    Sustainable aviation biofuels can benefit the environment by significantly reducing the amount of CO2 emissions produced during the "lifecycle" of that fuel compared to conventional jet fuel. "Lifecycle" refers to all emissions produced during the entire process, from extracting or collecting the feedstock to refining, transporting and using the fuel.
  • Are biofuels tested and certified for flights?

    Yes, there have been thousands of flights using biofuel like that produced by AltAir, including flights using the same Honeywell UOP's Green Jet FuelTM process. The fuel from AltAir meets the same stringent international fuel certification as conventional jet fuel (ASTM Standard D-1655), and the Federal Aviation Administration has deemed this fuel as acceptable for use on aircraft provided it meets ASTM specifications. Because this fuel is considered a "drop in" fuel, no infrastructure or aircraft engine modifications are necessary. Passengers won't notice any difference when flying on an aircraft using 100 percent petroleum fuel or one using a biofuel blend, as both types meet the same technical and safety requirements.
  • Why is the United/AltAir launch significant?

    This launch is a milestone in the U.S. commercial aviation industry because it moves biofuel use beyond demonstration flights and pilot programs and into our ongoing commercial operations. Starting in March 2016, United will begin purchasing biofuels for use on flights departing from Los Angeles under our three-year agreement with AltAir. The 15 million gallons of biofuel we plan to purchase from AltAir is enough fuel to power the equivalent of 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
  • Can I purchase a ticket specifically for a biofuel-powered flight?

    We will have two weeks dedicated to using biofuels on flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco between March 11 and March 25, 2016. Additional quantities purchased beyond those two weeks will be combined with the other fuel that we purchase for our Los Angeles operation. This supports our commitment to fully integrate biofuels into our regular operations to make biofuels "business as usual" and paves the way to further scale-up in our use of biofuels.

    Aside from these flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco, there is currently no way to purchase tickets specifically for a flight powered by biofuel. Our long-term goal is to expand the use of cost-competitive, commercial-scale aviation biofuel to many other locations. We anticipate that our agreements with AltAir Fuels and Fulcrum Bioenergy will bring millions of gallons of sustainable aviation biofuel to more of the airports that we serve in the years to come.

  • What can I do to reduce my carbon footprint when I fly?

    First, you can travel with airlines like United that are working to reduce the carbon intensity of flying by making significant fuel efficiency improvements and by increasing their use of biofuels. Additionally, United customers can purchase carbon offsets or donate miles toward the purchase of carbon offsets through our Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program. In 2015, we expanded our Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program to enable our corporate customers to offset their United air travel and cargo shipments for their entire enterprise.

Fulcrum BioEnergy

In June 2015, we announced a partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy, a company that has pioneered technology for converting municipal solid waste (household trash) into low-cost, sustainable aviation biofuel. This biofuel is produced through an innovative, clean and efficient thermochemical process, and it has a greater than 80 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.

As part of our partnership, we’ll work with Fulcrum to develop up to five biofuel refineries located near our U.S. hubs. These refineries could produce up to 180 million gallons of sustainable aviation biofuel per year, and we’ll have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of fuel each year for a minimum of 10 years (subject to availability).

Our agreement with Fulcrum will reduce our carbon footprint, divert waste from landfills and create new jobs at the Fulcrum facilities located in the communities that support our hubs. Fulcrum expects its first plant to begin commercial operation in 2017, and we expect to take our first delivery of Fulcrum fuel by 2018.

From trash to take off

Instead of household waste going to a landfill, it will now be delivered to a Fulcrum facility and converted into sustanable aviation biofuel.

  1. Trash is collected and delivered to a Fulcrum facility...
  2. where it is processed and converted into sustainable aviation biofuel.
  3. The drop-in fuel meets United's technical requirements.
  4. Fulcrum's fuel is 80% less carbon intensive than traditional fuel on a life cycle basis.
  1. Clean
  2. Scalable
  3. Efficient
  4. Reliable
Total trash placed in U.S. landfills in one year
=
Energy equivalent of 10 billion gallons of oil (3 times United's total annual fuel use)
The average American produces nearly 1 ton of garbage a year
=
That's 65 gallons of biofuels processed by Fulcrum
©2015 United Airlines, Inc. All rights reserved.

Our industry-leading history in sustainable aviation biofuels:

2016: We became the first U.S. airline to use commercial-scale volumes of renewable biofuel for regularly scheduled flights.

2015: We became the first U.S. airline to invest in a biofuels company with our $30 million equity investment in Fulcrum Bioenergy, including the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year for a minimum of 10 years.

2013: We announced the first cost-competitive, commercial-scale purchase of alternative fuels by a U.S. airline.

2012: We launched the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI). Learn more about MASBI

2011: We operated the first U.S. commercial flight powered by advanced biofuel.

2009: We performed the first U.S. alternative fuel test flight using jet fuel derived from algae.