Alternative fuels

in Environment

United® is a leader in the advancement and use of sustainable aviation biofuel, making history in commercial aviation with its partnership with AltAir Fuels to bring commercial-scale, cost-competitive renewable jet fuel to its Los Angeles hub. In 2015, United also made a historic $30 million equity investment in U.S.-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, to expand our supply of sustainable fuels even further into the future.

2016 goals

  • Launch AltAir biofuel initiative at LAX
  • Begin work to build our first facility with Fulcrum BioEnergy

AltAir fuels partnership

United – Biofuel Inaugural Event at LAX on On March 11, 2016 our United Eco-Skies Boeing 737 departed from Los Angeles bound for San Francisco powered by a low-carbon, sustainable aviation biofuel produced from non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes. With this flight, we became the first U.S. airline to begin operating commercial-scale passenger flights using an alternative fuel.

The biofuel is a blend of 70 percent traditional jet fuel and 30 percent biofuel. It’s a drop-in fuel that does not require any modifications to aircraft engines or airport infrastructure in order to be used. The biofuel undergoes rigorous testing and meets the same performance certification as our conventional jet fuel. To our customers and crews, the flight experience is exactly the same.

However, this alternative fuel is estimated to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by greater than 60 percent. This means that fewer carbon emissions are produced throughout the whole process of production, starting with harvesting the raw materials, refining the fuel, transporting the fuel and ending with combustion in our aircraft engines.

We are now using the biofuel in daily operations at Los Angeles, storing and delivering it the same way as traditional fuel – making Los Angeles the first airport in the United States to incorporate biofuels into its regular fueling system.

Over the next three years, we plan to purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel from AltAir – enough to power the equivalent of 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Learn more about United’s partnership with AltAir Fuels.

Fulcrum BioEnergy partnership

From trash
to take off

Instead of household waste going to a landfill, it will now be delivered to a Fulcrum facility and converted into sustainable aviation biofuel.

  1. Trash is collected and delivered to a Fulcrum facility…
  2. where it is processed and converted into sustainable aviation biofuel.
  3. The drop-in fuel meets United’s technical requirements.
  4. Fulcrum’s fuel is 80% less carbon intensive than traditional fuel on a life cycle basis.
  1. Clean
  2. Scalable
  3. Efficient
  4. Reliable
Total trash placed in U.S. landfills in one year
Energy equivalent of 10 billion gallons of oil (3 times United’s total annual fuel use)
The average American produces nearly 1 ton of garbage a year
That’s 65 gallons of biofuels processed by Fulcrum

On June 30, 2015, we announced a historic $30 million equity investment in U.S.-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel.

This investment, the single largest investment by a U.S. airline in alternative fuels, sets United apart in the aviation industry in the advancement of aviation biofuels and carbon emissions reductions. In addition to the equity investment, United and Fulcrum have entered into an agreement that allows for the joint development of up to five facilities located near United’s hubs expected to have the potential to produce up to 180 million gallons of fuel per year.

United has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum and, subject to availability, will have the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year for a minimum of 10 years at a cost that is competitive with conventional jet fuel. This alternative fuel will be a drop-in fuel that meets all of the airline’s technical requirements and specifications, and will power the aircraft in the same way as conventional jet fuel. Fulcrum expects its first alternative fuels plant to begin commercial operation in 2017.

Fulcrum’s technology converts household trash, known as municipal solid waste (MSW), into renewable jet fuel. Fulcrum’s renewable jet fuel is expected to provide a greater than 80 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to conventional jet fuel.

Fulcrum has successfully developed and proven its technology to convert MSW into low-cost, low-carbon transportation fuels in an innovative, clean and efficient thermochemical process. MSW is an attractive biofuel feedstock as it is low cost, has limited volatility and a virtually unlimited supply. United’s agreement with Fulcrum is expected to decrease the airline’s carbon footprint through the use of sustainable aviation biofuel, while also diverting waste from landfills and creating new jobs in those communities where new Fulcrum facilities are sited. Fulcrum’s projects have also received support and participation from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy for the future production of fuel that meets military specifications.

Learn more about United’s leadership in alternative aviation fuels.