United Continental Holdings announced that its subsidiary Continental Airlines today is operating the first U.S. commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels. Flight 1403, a Boeing 737-800, departs Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport at 10:30 a.m. for Chicago O'Hare International Airport, making United the first U.S. airline to fly passengers using a blend of sustainable, advanced biofuel and traditional petroleum-derived jet fuel.
"United is taking a significant step forward to advance the use of environmentally responsible and cost-efficient alternative fuels," said Pete McDonald, United's executive vice president and chief operations officer. "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."
Today's flight demonstrates United's commitment to sustainable biofuels and making progress toward enhancing energy security, diversity of our fuel supply and a reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels.
"Today, roughly four months since the approval of hydroprocessed renewable fuels in commercial aviation, we are excited to see the deployment of these fuels on a domestic U.S. flight," said Air Transport Association of America (ATA) Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich. "ATA member airlines continue to demonstrate leadership in fostering new and environmentally preferred sources of energy to transport people and goods throughout the globe."
Powered by the World's First 100 Percent Algae-Derived Jet Fuel
olazyme, working with Honeywell's UOP process technology, developed the algae oil that was refined into jet fuel to power today's commercial flight. Solazyme produced the world's first 100 percent algae-derived jet fuel for both commercial and military applications.
Also today, United is announcing it has signed a letter of intent with Solazyme to negotiate the purchase of 20 million gallons of jet fuel per year, derived exclusively from algae oil, for delivery as early as 2014. Solazyme, headquartered in south San Francisco, manufactured the algae oil used on today's flight through its proprietary fermentation process. The end product was then refined outside Houston using renewable jet fuel processing technology from Honeywell's UOP.
"Looking at United, a company that understands the sustainability of tomorrow means environmental responsibility today, we see a true pioneer in the future of flight," said Jonathan Wolfson, Solazyme's CEO. "Solazyme is deeply committed to commercializing our renewable oil production technology, and we're excited to be partnering with United on the first U.S. commercial biofuel flight."
Underscoring Eco-Skies, United's Commitment to the Environment
Operating the first U.S. revenue advanced biofuel flight represents a major milestone in Eco-Skies, United's commitment to leading commercial aviation as an environmentally responsible company by taking actions today that shape an environmentally sustainable future. Eco-Skies builds upon United and Continental's solid track record for improving aircraft fuel efficiency and introducing sustainability programs.
Continental in 2009 made history as the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels derived from algae and jatropha. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft used in that demonstration, tail number 516, is the same aircraft operating today's flight. In 2010 United conducted the first flight by a U.S. commercial airline using synthetic fuel made from natural gas.
"Advancing a greener, more diverse fuel supply for the future is a top priority for United," said Jimmy Samartzis, United's managing director of global environmental affairs and sustainability. "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."
- The company improved fuel efficiency by more than 32 percent since 1994 by investing in a modern, fuel-efficient fleet and by streamlining its operating procedures. New fuel-efficient aircraft on order, 132 in total for delivery through 2019, include 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 25 Airbus 350s, which are 20 percent more fuel efficient than the older aircraft they will replace. United continues to modify existing aircraft with winglets, improving fuel efficiency by up to five percent.
- United and Continental operate more than 3,600 alternatively fueled or zero-emission ground service equipment vehicles.
- Whenever possible, pilots use innovative flight processes such as continuous descent or tailored arrivals, use only one engine while taxiing and ground power instead of aircraft engines when at the gate, and the airline often uses ground equipment instead of aircraft engines to move aircraft from gate to gate.
- During the last five years the company recycled more than 20 million pounds of aluminum cans, plastic and paper items from waste generated in-flight and in our facilities.
- Advancements in technology, such as paperless flight decks with iPads for pilots and paperless boarding with mobile devices for customers, further reduce environmental impact.
How Biofuel Differs from Traditional Jet Fuel
Ensuring safe aviation use, the biofuel used on today's flight meets the ASTM International specification for bio-derived aviation fuels, approved in July 2011 and referred to as "Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids" (HEFA) fuel. HEFA fuels underwent rigorous testing and review by engine and airframe manufacturers, the U.S. military, the FAA and airlines. Solajet™, powering this United flight, met the certification requirements established by the ASTM and approved by the FAA. The biofuel delivers fuel safety and operational characteristics that are identical to conventional jet fuel—but cleaner. These advanced biofuels are drop-in replacements for petroleum-based fuel, requiring no modification to factory-standard engines or aircraft. The pilots operating the aircraft fly the plane in exactly the same way they do when flying an aircraft powered only by traditional jet fuel. Passengers on the flight will not see, feel or hear any difference in the aircraft.
Solajet™ is derived from Solazyme's 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's technology is biomass feedstock flexible and can be tailored to achieve customer needs in geographies throughout the world, allowing it to achieve cost parity, commercial scale and lifecycle environmental impact reduction.
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