Last updated: 03:53 PM ET, Thu July 02 2015

United Airlines to Operate First Passenger Flight Using Biofuel

Airlines & Airports | United Airlines | Patrick Clarke | July 01, 2015

United Airlines to Operate First Passenger Flight Using Biofuel

In a milestone for airlines and the biofuel industry, United Airlines will operate a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco this summer using fuel containing elements of farm waste and animal fat oils.

According to the New York Times, the flight, scheduled six years after United's first biofuel test flight, will signal the first time a domestic carrier has operated a passenger flight using alternative fuel.

The flight announcement comes on the heels of United's $30 million investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy, a California-based company and one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels. 

Fulcrum's technology, which has been developed and certified, is able to cut an airline's carbon emissions by as much as 80 percent when compared to jet fuel.

Angela Foster-Rice, United's managing director for environmental affairs and sustainability, told the Times that the market has garnered "huge interest from the airlines." After all, United's recent investment in Fulcrum comes in the wake of similar deals involving carriers like Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and British Airways, among others.

What's more, United's move to pursue more sustainable fuel comes just two years after the Chicago-based airline agreed to purchase 15 million gallons of biofuels from AltAir Fuels over a span of three years. The first five million gallons are expected to be delivered to Los Angeles International Airport this summer, where United plans to use the biofuels for its flights to San Francisco. 

Foster-Rice called the effort a "catalyst intended to pave the way for the industry."

The shift toward more cost-effective and environmentally-conscious fuel sources has been sped up by pressure from the White House as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization, both of which are eyeing new limits on aviation emissions.

"There is a significant role for biofuels within the aviation sector, specifically for reducing carbon emissions," Natural Resources Defense Council senior resource specialist Debbie Hammel told the Times. 

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