On Friday, United Airlines will launch a new initiative that uses biofuel to help power flights running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with eventual plans to expand to all flights operating out of LAX. It’s the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations, and the occasion is part of a bigger movement when it comes to clean transportation in the U.S.  

The renewable fuel used to power United’s planes will be coming from a Los Angeles refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP, a major supplier and technology licenser in the petroleum industry. Back in 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period.

Friday’s launch will be the first application of that agreement. The flights will use a mixture of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel, and United says that the biofuel will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 60 percent compared with regular fuel.

In general, the idea behind renewable fuels is to use a biological source — for example, plant or animal matter — rather than a geological one, like oil. The Honeywell UOP technology that’s being applied at the AltAir refinery can utilize a range of difference sources, from used cooking oil to algae.

The technology has been in the works since 2007, when the company was awarded a grant from DARPA to develop green jet fuel, according to Veronica May, vice president and general manager of renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell UOP. Currently, its technology allows for the production of diesel fuel that can be used in any proportion with existing diesel engines — up to 100 percent. Its jet fuel can replace up to 50 percent of petroleum fuel in existing aircraft. Altogether, both fuels can offer up to about an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional fuel, the company says.

“This is a long-term investment toward the future of sustainability for our company and for our communities,” said Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director of environmental affairs and sustainability, adding that “it’s also very business-smart and helps our community with clean energy jobs as well.”

The announcement comes at a time when interest in using biofuel to cut down on carbon emissions in the transportation sector is climbing — but also when it has been beset with controversy. The Environmental Protection Agency already requires refiners to mix a certain amount of renewable fuel, mainly corn-based ethanol, into their gasoline — and just last November, the agency chose to increase those standards in a move that inspired has considerable criticism from the petroleum industry, which has been sparring with the nation’s ethanol producers for the past several years.

So when it comes to biofuels for motor vehicles, the issue remains fraught with controversy.

Renewable jet fuel, on the other hand, constitutes a relatively untapped opportunity. But while United may be first U.S.-based airline to launch regular biofuel-powered commercial flights, it will likely not be the last. Both Southwest Airlines and FedEx have reportedly contracted with a company called Red Rock Biofuels to start buying renewable jet fuel….Continue Reading Here

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