United Airlines yesterday announced a $30 million equity investment in US-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, which turns municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. United says this is the single largest investment by a US airline in alternative fuels.
In addition to the equity investment, United and Fulcrum have entered into an agreement that contemplates the joint development of up to five projects located near United’s hubs expected to have the potential to produce up to 180 million gallons of fuel per year.
United has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum and, subject to availability, will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year for a minimum of 10 years at a cost that is competitive with conventional jet fuel. This alternative fuel will be a drop-in fuel that meets all of the airline’s technical requirements and specifications, and will power the aircraft in the same way as conventional jet fuel.
Fulcrum expects its first alternative fuels plant to begin commercial operation in 2017.
Fulcrum expects its renewable jet fuel to provide a greater than 80 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to conventional jet fuel.
United has been a long-time leader in aviation biofuels. In 2009, it became the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels derived from algae and jatropha. United also operated the first flight by a North American commercial airline using synthetic fuel made from natural gas in 2010. A year later, United operated the first US commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels.
In 2012, United, along with the Boeing Company, Honeywell’s UOP, the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Clean Energy Trust, launched the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative, an effort by more than 40 organizations across the aviation biofuels supply chain to accelerate the commercialization of advanced biofuels in the Midwest.
United Airlines is also a signatory to the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, whose members represent approximately 32 percent of commercial aviation fuel demand. United signed a pledge to pursue the advancement of drop-in biofuels that achieve important sustainability criteria, work with leading organizations to achieve biofuel certification standards and take actions to enable commercial use of aviation biofuels.