United Airlines has joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, an industry working group that aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of aviation biofuels.
In joining SAFUG, United Airlines 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.
The group’s members, including AirFrance, British Airways and Boeing, represent around 32 percent of commercial aviation fuel demand, United says.
United says it has to date signed letters of intent to negotiate the purchase of more than 50 million gallons of sustainable biofuels. The airline operated the first US commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels in November 2011, following test and demonstration flights in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The 2011 flight use algae-based biofuel from Solazyme on a Boeing 737-800 that flew from Houston to Chicago. The fuel blend from Solazyme used 60 percent traditional jet fuel and 40 percent biofuel.
In the same week as United’s first commercial biofuel-powered flight Alaska Airlines began a series of 75 commercial passenger flights powered by a 20 percent biofuel blend, made from used cooking oil. The blend was used on flights originating in Seattle, going to Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C. The airline estimated that the biofuel would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, or 134 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 26 cars off the road for a year.
In January, German carrier Lufthansa announced it was ending trials using biofuels to power flights, due to a lack of reliable supplies. The trial saw Lufthansa carry out 1,187 biofuel flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt.
In June this year, aviation trade body the International Air Transport Association called on government to support the nascent biofuels industry. Speaking at the group’s annual general meeting in Beijing, IATA chief executive Tony Tyler said that airlines have undertaken many flights using such fuels, but supply is low and cost is prohibitively high. As such, governments need to adopt policies to help support the commercialization of biofuels to “bring up the volume and bring down the price,” Tyler said.