CHICAGO, Illinois, July 1, 2015 (ENS) – United Airlines has invested $30 million in alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, a company that turns municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel.

The deal “represents the biggest strategic partnership in the biofuels and aviation industries,” the companies said in a joint statement Tuesday.

United said it’s the single largest equity investment ever made in alternative fuels by a U.S. airline.

“We know alternative fuels is an emerging industry that is vital to the future of aviation and this is just one of our initiatives to help make these fuels saleable and scalable,” said United’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brett Hart.

“Investing in alternative fuels is not only good for the environment,” said Hart, “it’s a smart move for our company as biofuels have the potential to hedge against future oil price volatility and carbon regulations.”


United has dressed this plane in eco-colors and the logo “eco-skies.” (Photo courtesy United Airlines)

Solving two problems at once, utilizing the inevitable stream of municipal solid waste, Fulcrum converts municipal garbage into aviation biofuel.

Fulcrum claims its “renewable jet fuel” will provide “a greater than 80 percent reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions when compared to conventional jet fuel.”

This drop-in fuel meets all the airline’s technical requirements and specifications, and will power the aircraft in the same way as conventional jet fuel, the companies stated Tuesday.

“We have combined the best team in biofuels with two of the largest waste services companies, two major airlines, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the best technology providers and a premier contractor to build out our program. I’m proud of what our team has accomplished and am very excited about the future,” said E. James Macias, Fulcrum’s president and chief executive.

Fulcrum expects its first waste-to-biofuel plant to begin commercial operation in 2017.

United is convinced and ready to commit to the alternative fuel. For a minimum of 10 years, United has negotiated the opportunity to purchase 90 million gallons a year of Fulcrum’s sustainable jet fuel, subject to availability, at a price “competitive with conventional jet fuel,” the companies said.

United takes pride in having been “a long-time leader in aviation biofuels.”

In 2009, it became the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels made from algae and jatropha.

In 2010, United operated the first flight by a North American carrier using synthetic fuel from natural gas. The following year, there was the first U.S. commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels.

In 2012, United, together with aircraft giant Boeing, Honeywell’s UOP, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the Clean Energy Trust launched the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative.

This effort by more than 40 organizations across the aviation biofuels supply chain seeks to accelerate the commercialization of advanced biofuels in the Midwest.

United is a signatory to the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, whose members represent approximately 32 percent of commercial aviation fuel demand.

United signed a pledge to pursue the advancement of drop-in biofuels that achieve important sustainability criteria, work with leading organizations to achieve biofuel certification standards and take actions to enable commercial use of aviation biofuels.

Finally, United and Fulcrum have agreed to “contemplate joint development of up to five projects” located near United’s hubs. These, in total, are projected to produce up to 180 million gallons of fuel a year.

View a video about Fulcrum’s technology here.

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