On Monday morning, United Airlines will launch the first ever U.S. commercial flight powered by a biofuel mixture. Alaska Airlines will follow closely behind, sending out their first biofuel flight on Wednesday.
United Airlines flight 1403 will depart from at 10:25 a.m. Monday morning from Bush Intercontinental Airport to Chicago O'Hare. The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 Eco-Skies, operates on a blend of 60% petroleum jet fuel and 40% algae-based biofuel created by Solazyme. The San Francisco-based company manufactures this blend of petroleum and biofuel, known as Solajet, by refining algae oil in a fermentation process.
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, in press release. 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.
On Wednesday, Alaska Airlines will launch their first commercial flights using biofuel from Seattle to both Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon. Although the airline was beat in the race for the first commercial flight, Alaska Airlines will be flying biofuel powered flights on a larger scale than United. Alaska Airlines and sister carrier, Horizon Airlines, scheduled 75 flights in the coming weeks to be powered by biofuels.
Commercial airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels, Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer said in press release. They will enable us to fly cleaner, foster job growth in a new industry, and can insulate airlines from the volatile price swings of conventional fuel to help make air travel more economical.
Alaska Airlines will be using a blend of 20% biofuels made from cooking oils that met strict international standards. The fuel was made by Dynamic Fuels, a producer of synthetic high-performance fuels.
Advanced biofuels can be an economic driver in creating good jobs and a vital part of America's long-term energy security, said Bob Ames, member of the Dynamic Fuels management committee, in Alaska Airlines' announcement of biofuel flights. However, government policies supporting development are essential to ensure that the aviation biofuels industry reaches its full potential and is able to compete against foreign petroleum.
Biofuel has come a long way from the first US biofuel test flight two years ago, also leaving from Bush Intercontinental. The Continental flight used a mix of 50% normal jet fuel, 47% jatropha (an inedible plant oil), and 3% algae-based biofuel. Since then, Royal Dutch Airlines, Thomson Airlines, Lufthansa, and others have all begun to use biofuel mixes on commercial flights.
At the end of September, China also joined the race when they launched a demonstration of an Air China Boeing 747 flying on biofuel. The plane used 50-50 blend of standard jet fuel and jatropha-based fuel. The mix was created by Honeywell UOP using jatropha grown by PetroChina. US-headquartered Boeing also helped in the research of the fuel, just one of the projects between the US and China, the two largest oil consuming countries. Commercial flights using biofuel in China are expected within three to five years.