United Airlines makes historic first US commercial biofuel flight using Solazyme's algae-derived Solajet
United flight crew prior to biofuel flight
Mon 7 Nov 2011 – United Continental subsidiary Continental Airlines today operated the first US commercial flight to be powered by a sustainable biofuel blend. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft made the two-and-a-half flight 1403 from Houston to Chicago using a blend, believed to be 40/60, of algae-derived biofuel and conventional jet kerosene. Although commercial jet biofuel flights have already taken place in Europe, China and South America since certification in July, this is the first time algae has been used as the sole source of the biofuel, which is considered a major next generation advance on crop-based fuels. The algae oil was supplied by San Francisco-based Solazyme and was refined into jet fuel in Houston by Honeywell UOP’s process technology. In another landmark, United announced it has signed a Letter of Intent with Solazyme to negotiate the purchase of 20 million gallons per year of the company’s Solajet fuel, with delivery slated for as early as 2014.
In January 2009, Continental was the also the first airline in the United States to operate a demonstration flight that used a sustainable biofuel blend and the same aircraft was used on today’s flight (see story).
The fuel on that occasion was made up of jatropha and a small amount of algae, which marked the first airline use of an algae-derived fuel. For that flight the algae fuel was supplied by Sapphire Energy but this is the first commercial airline roll out of Solazyme’s Solajet fuel, produced using a proprietary fermentation process, which has so far been supplied only to the US Navy for testing and certification purposes.
Solajet is derived from a tailored oil production process using microbial algae that grow in fermenters by feeding on sugars from plants that have already harnessed the sun’s energy. Solazyme says its technology is biomass feedstock flexible and can therefore be tailored according to local geographic conditions throughout the world, therefore enabling cost parity, commercial scale and lifecycle environmental impact reduction.
“United is taking a significant step forward to advance the use of environmentally responsible and cost-efficient alternative fuels,” said Pete McDonald, Executive Vice President and COO of United. “Sustainable biofuels, produced on a large scale at an economically viable price, can one day play a meaningful role in powering everyone’s trip on an airline.”
The flight marks a major milestone in United’s Eco-Skies “commitment to leading commercial aviation as an environmentally responsible company by taking actions today that shape an environmentally sustainable future,” said the airline.
United and Continental already operate more than 3,600 alternatively fuelled or zero-emission ground service equipment vehicles.
United’s Managing Director of Global Environmental Affairs, Jimmy Samartzis, commented: “Advancing a greener, more diverse fuel supply for the future is a top priority for United. Our environmental actions and commitment extend beyond that – we are reducing our impact on the environment in the air and on the ground with our business partners and across our communities.”