United Airlines To Use Food Scraps For Renewable Jet Fuel

United Airlines To Use Food Scraps For Renewable Jet Fuel

United Airlines invests big time to turn food waste into renewable jet fuel. 

United Airlines is about to be the first American-based airline to use renewable jet fuel made from food scraps. The company has enlisted Fulcrum BioEnergy to turn household waste like food scraps, farm waste, and animal fat into biofuel. Their $30 million investment is a double whammy when it comes to the environment: reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and food waste.

“This partnership underscores United’s efforts to be a leader in alternative fuels as well as our efforts to lead commercial aviation as an environmentally responsible company,” said United’s Managing Director for Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Angela Foster-Rice in a statement. “From our carbon offset program to our fuel saving winglet technology, this investment in Fulcrum represents yet another example of our Eco-Skies commitment to a more sustainable future.”

Fulcrum uses a thermochemical process to convert household waste into low cost, low carbon transportation fuels. The process uses heat and pressure to breakdown the biomass and use the component parts for fuel. The biofuel will reduce airline emissions by a reported 80 percent while at the same time, it helps to combat another major problem: food waste. Plus the biofuel is cheap, costing just $1 per gallon.

According to the Huffington Post:

The carbon footprint of flying is pretty serious: Airlines are responsible for around 3 percent of the country’s total CO2 emissions. When that’s broken down more, it means a round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco produces about 3 tons of CO2 per person. Americans also generate on average nearly double the amount of CO2 that Europeans do.

About 40 percent of food in the U.S. ends up in the nation’s already stressed landfills. That equals to about 20 pounds of food waste per person per month. In all, Americans throw away about $165 billion worth of food every year. This is another great way to put some of that food waste to work for us in the form of jet fuel.

“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, it’s a smart move for our company as biofuels have the potential to hedge against future oil price volatility and carbon regulations.”

While this initial investment is just the beginning, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Especially considering that currently airlines are responsible for 3 percent of total U.S. emissions. United Airlines began investing in alternative fuels back in 2009 when the airline performed its first test flight using a plane powered by algae.

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Image: Lars Steffen