United operates longest-ever transatlantic biofuel flight and pledges to halve GHG emissions by 2050
(photo: United Airlines)
Mon 17 Sept 2018 – United Airlines has operated the longest non-stop transatlantic biofuel journey to date when a 30/70 blend of biojet produced from Carinata oilseed and conventional jet fuel powered a Boeing 787 flight from San Francisco to Zurich. The biofuel content of 16,000 gallons was refined and supplied by World Energy’s AltAir Fuels plant in Paramount, California. United says it is the first airline globally to use sustainable aviation biofuel on an ongoing daily basis and has sourced more than 2 million gallons since 2016. It claims responsibility for over half of the industry’s current commitments to biofuel usage. To mark the flight, the airline said it was becoming the first US carrier to publicly pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 from a 2005 level. United CEO Oscar Munoz said with rising fuel prices, the financial case for sustainability was clear.
“At United, we believe there is no point in setting challenging and ambitious goals without also taking tangible steps towards achieving them, especially when it comes to securing the health of our communities and our planet,” said Munoz. “While we’re proud to be the first US carrier taking such an ambitious step, it is a distinction we look forward to sharing as the rest of the industry catches up and makes similar commitments to sustainability.”
In an op-ed on Business Insider, he said if other airlines did so then they would learn that cutting emissions and “doubling down on sustainable aviation fuel was the surest way to control cost and help boost profits.”
The price of oil had gone up by nearly 50% in the past year and was costing his airline more than $15,000 every minute, more than its combined spend on ground operations, facilities and landing fees, he said.
“Regardless of whether oil prices rise or fall, the inherent volatility and environmental impact of fossil fuels exert their own costs, to the bottom line, the customer and the planet. The ultimate hedge against those costs is to transition to alternative and renewable sources of energy.”
Carinata seeds are sold by Canadian agri-tech company Agrisoma Biosciences and claims growers in place throughout the Americas and Australia, where Carinata is grown as a second crop to complement existing crop production, enabling additional income and soil health benefits for farmers. The harvested grain is crushed to recover the oil to produce jet biofuel and, as a by-product, high-protein animal feed. It is the first oilseed to be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.
Commenting on the United flight, Agrisoma CEO Steve Fabijanski said: “At 11 hours, it is the longest transatlantic biojet flight undertaken to date and with the fuel-efficient Boeing 787, represents the lowest carbon footprint commercial flight across the Atlantic. It is our second international biojet flight powered by Carinata, but there are more to come.”
Earlier this year, biofuel produced from Agrisoma’s Carinata and also supplied by World Energy was used in a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne.
United Airlines is already investing more than $30 million in California-based waste-to-biojet producer Fulcrum Bioenergy, which it says is the single largest investment by any airline in alternative fuels, and the deal to purchase nearly one billion gallons of biojet from the producer is the largest offtake agreement so far by an airline.
To meet its 50% GHG reduction pledge, in addition to expanding the use of sustainable aviation fuels, United said it would continue to invest in new fuel-efficient aircraft and implement further operational changes to conserve fuel.