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United Launching Biofuel Flight Today, with Alaska on Its Heels

United Airlines and Alaska Airlines are both launching commercial flights powered by biofuel this week.

United, the world’s largest airline, will use algae-based biofuel for a Boeing 737-800 flying today from Houston to Chicago, Reuters reports. The fuel blend from Solazyme uses 60 percent traditional jet fuel and 40 percent biofuel.

Meanwhile Alaska Airlines says it will power 75 commercial passenger flights by a 20 percent biofuel blend, made from used cooking oil, starting this Wednesday. It will use the blend on flights originating in Seattle, going to Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

Alaska Air Group estimates the biofuel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, or 134 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 26 cars off the road for a year. If the company powered all of its flights with a 20 percent biofuel blend for one year, it says this would save emissions equivalent to 64,000 cars.

The fuel was supplied by SkyNRG, a consortium of  KLM, North Sea Group and Spring Associates, and made by Dynamic Fuels, a $170 million joint venture between Tyson Foods Inc. and Syntroleum Corp.

Last May the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest initiative, of which Alaska Air Group is a member, determined the region has the diverse stocks, delivery infrastructure and political will needed to create a viable biofuels industry. The group’s report said that no single technology is likely to provide enough sustainable fuel to meet its goal of carbon-neutral growth for the aviation industry by 2020, though oilseed, forest residues, municipal solid waste and algae are all promising feedstocks.

The group said there currently is no supply of aviation biofuels in the Pacific Northwest.

At the Paris Air Show in June, nine major airlines signed letters of intent to use biofuels from Solena Fuels for flights out of the San Francisco Bay area. American Airlines and United Continental Holdings led the deal’s development, and they were joined by US Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Southwest, Frontier, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, as well as FedEx.

Also at the air show, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said it will start using biokerosene derived from cooking oil for more than 200 flights on its Paris-Amsterdam route this autumn. The fuel will be produced by Dynamic Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG.

In July ASTM International released a highly anticipated international standard for aviation fuel containing up to 50 percent biofuels. ASTM D7566, Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons, will allow these fuels to be used by commercial airlines.

And in October, Virgin Atlantic Airways announced plans to fly commercial routes, by 2014, with a waste gas-based fuel that the company says has half the carbon footprint of standard aviation fuel.

Partners LanzaTech and Swedish Biofuels are creating the new fuel by capturing, fermenting and chemically converting waste gases from industrial steel production.

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