Monday, November 7, 2011

First Commercial Flights Using Biofuel by US Air Carriers

United Airlines Test Algae Mix
Shipping News Feature

US – As usual when the administration is set a task it considers important the Americans can be relied upon to come up with a strategy to be admired. The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) was set up five years ago to tackle the problem of finding sustainable aircraft fuels and today saw the first ever commercial domestic flight using a blend of bio-fuel and traditional jet fuel. Flight UA1403 from Houston to Chicago was a scheduled passenger service by United Airlines but look out for a regular mix of cargo and passenger flights as the company has vowed to purchase 20 million gallons of bio-fuel per year to which is bound to impact on air freight carriage.

United, which merged recently with Continental Airlines, saw the Boeing 737-800 powered by a mix of traditional aviation fuel and the world's first 100 percent algae-derived jet fuel manufactured by Solazyme. In 2009 Continental itself made history as the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels derived from algae and Jatropha curcas. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft used in that demonstration, tail number 516, was the same aircraft utilised in today's flight. In 2010 United conducted the first flight by a U.S. commercial airline using synthetic fuel made from natural gas.

United announced 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.

Solajet™ fuel is derived from Solazyme's tailored oil production process using microbial algae that grow in fermentation vats 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’.

Representatives from both fuel supplier and customer expressed their excitement at what is seen by many as a landmark achievement in air carriage technology. Jonathan Wolfson, Solazyme's CEO said his company was deeply committed to the task of producing cleaner, sustainable fuels whilst Jimmy Samartzis, United's managing director of global environmental affairs and sustainability, said reducing UA’s impact on the environment, both in the air and on the ground, was the company’s top priority.

Later this week Alaska Air will follow United’s lead by using a blend of aviation fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil to power two flights out of Seattle to Portland and Washington, DC.