United Airlines Buys 10 Million Gallons Of Biofuel

United has renewed its contract with its experimental fuel supplier and committed to ordering 10 million gallons of biofuel over the next two years, according to Aeronautics Online. United still has five million gallons on hand from the last contract and will now be able to power over 12,500 flights. This fuel will also be used for all United aircraft departing Los Angeles Airport.

United Airlines Buys 10 Million Gallons Of Biofuel
United Airlines is the world’s biggest buyer of jet biofuel. Photo: United

This fuel will be the basis of United’s plan to reduce airline carbon emissions over 50% by 2050.

What is biofuel?

Biofuel is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not entirely natural. The ‘biofuel’ that United uses is actually 70% regular jet fuel, with 30% supplementary biowaste products that can be burned as fuel.

These products are derived from agricultural wastes, non-edible oils, and garbage, processed to turn them into high octane fuel. This fuel is produced at refineries, such as the one in Paramount, California, owned by World Energy.

It is this company that United started working with back in 2011, and has now committed to a new deal worth 10 million gallons of biofuel. World Energy’s refinery is still only in early development, and when fully operational will be able to produce 300 million gallons of biofuel per year.

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner
United Boeing 787-8, fuel efficient and even better for the environment on biofuel. Image by United.

Why is United interested in biofuel?

There are two main advantages that biofuel has over regular fuel for United.

  1. United will now be less susceptible to fuel pricing fluctuations and thus be more competitive in the market. When fuel prices rise, United will have a bigger buffer before they have to raise prices at the customer level.
  2. It’s better for the environment. Biofuel creates 60% fewer emissions than regular fuel and means that United will be in a better position when it comes to carbon trading and other climate change mitigation measures. The fuel is made from recycled products and thus means less industrial waste is going to landfill.

Of course, the biofuel is just a part of United’s environmental plan.

Aircraft Paint
New aircraft joining the United fleet will be operated to be carbon neutral. Photo: United Airlines

What is United’s environmental plan?

United has a pretty ambitious plan to turn their airline around from one of the worst aviation polluters (the bigger the fleet, the more carbon emissions) to one of the cleanest. They have set several goals:

  • Reduce total fleet emissions by 50% by 2050 (relative to 2005 emissions, which is a bit of a sneaky trick).
  • Increase fuel efficiency by 1.5% per year every year.
  • From 2020, all new fleet aircraft or business activities will be carbon neutral (will neither increase or decrease emissions).
  • Retire less fuel efficient (and more polluting) aircraft in the fleet. These would be planes like the Boeing 777-300ER, 757 or Boeing 747 which was retired two years ago).

United’s president, Scott Kirby, said to Aeronautics Online,

“Investing in sustainable aviation biofuel is one of the most effective measures a commercial airline can take to reduce its impact on the environment.”

Next to United, only Cathay Pacific is as large a buyer of biofuel in the aviation space.

What do you think? Should more airlines be using biofuel? Let us know in the comments.