Fly the eco-friendly skies: United to launch 50% jet biofuels on LAX-SFO route

March 10, 2016 |

BD-TS-United-031016-smIn California, United Airlines will be using jet biofuels produced by AltAir using Honeywell UOP technology on up to 150 flights a day out of Los Angeles, the Digest has learned. March 11.

A two week, 14-day Los Angeles to San Francisco service will launch United’s jet biofuels plan. After the first two weeks, “pretty much all flights out of LAX will have a component of biofuel,” said a person familiar with the United plan. Flights are expected to begin almost immediately.

Depending on the feedstock used, Honeywell Green Jet Fuel can offer a 65 to 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with petroleum-based jet fuel, which helps refiners meet EPA mandates for renewable transportation fuel content. It’s also being delivered at a price comparable to petroleum fuel, marking a major milestone towards the widespread use of renewables fuel.

United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable aviation biofuel from AltAir over a three-year period, with the option to purchase more.

The AltAir project

In 2013, AltAir and United announced the 15 million gallon deal, saying at the time that they expected to be operating flights in 2014. AltAir Fuels said that it planned to retrofit the idled portions of its Paramount petroleum refinery to produce renewable jet fuel and other products from non-edible oils and agricultural waste.  The opening of the AltAir refinery created 150 jobs in Paramount, California. The biofuel is mixed with traditional jet fuel at a 30/70 blend ratio.

AltAir can produce enough sustainable bio-jet fuel to power the equivalent of more than 40,000 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the next three years — at its historic 40 million gallons plant.

The Visual Story

Sustainable aviation biofuel: The Digest’s 2016 8-Slide Guide to United Airlines

Merging refinery tech with biofuels: The Digest’s 2016 8-Slide Guide to Honeywell’s UOP

Honeywell’s UOP Renewable Jet Fuel Process

This is third launch we’ve seen using Honeywell Green Fuel.

Last summer, the Disney Transportation bus fleet became one of the first in the country to run on R50, a cleaner renewable diesel (RD) made from used cooking oil and non-consumable food waste. Then, in January the US Navy’s Great Green Fleet sailed on its 2016 mission, using green marine diesel. Now, United takes off with renewable jet fuel — all made using the same technology.

“These very public users highlight the fact they the fuels are commercially available, and to have three different modes of jet, marine and road sends a positive message about the technology,” Honeywell UOP renewables czarina Veronica May told The Digest.

It’s been a long road, we note. But not as long as, for example, the path to getting lead out of fuels, May noted.

“Anyone who’s been in the business knows that changes in fuels take years and decades. When you look back, it took 30 years to remove lead. There was the Clean Air Act in 1970 which set the target, but it wasn’t until 1986 that we had all of the lead removed for road transport, and 1990 for all vehicles, and Europe took another 10 years to get the lead out. We’re 10 years into the Renewable Fuel Standard. and obviously the low oil price is rocking the financial market, but these projects are years in the making, and a blip in the price will slow but not stop the momentum.”

May emphasized having the capital and the portfolio of technologies to meet customer needs throughout the commodity price cycle.

“One thing that UOP brings to renewable fuels, is that we are able to continue investment year after year. A lot of groups have great ideas but don’t have the funding, so when gasoline prices are high you get a flurry of activity but they can’t can’t sustain it. Renewables are one part of UOP, and the rest helps to support renewables.”

We asked May about the low price environment and the era of high oil prices. Noting that in the era of high prices that we saw so much diversion of capital and consumer interest to electrics, natural gas vehicles, and reducing drive miles. Is there a pricing sweet spot, we wondered?

“Actually, what you don;t want to see is a lot of volatility. If it would just stay in one range, that would help, because a lot of feedstock prices track the oil price. Another thing that helps is feedstock diversity. Right now we have waste oils, but when camelina and others come along, purpose—grown oilseeds crops,  there you start getting a foundation, for real expansion.”

“And, it would help if EPA could put out volumes not for a year or two, but for five years, because it takes 3 years to build a project from scratch.”

The Alt Air refinery

AltAir Paramount is using Honeywell’s UOP Renewable Jet Fuel Process to convert a variety of sustainable feedstocks into Honeywell Green Jet Fuel at the world’s first dedicated commercial-scale renewable jet fuel production facility. The plant, located near the Los Angeles International Airport, has also produced Honeywell Green Diesel, a drop-in replacement for diesel made from petroleum, using the same process technology.

AltAir is the second U.S. fuel producer using Honeywell UOP technology to produce renewable fuels, joining Diamond Green Diesel, which is producing renewable diesel in Louisiana

The Renewable Jet Fuel Process makes Honeywell Green Jet Fuel as well as Honeywell Green Diesel from a range of sustainable feedstocks such as used cooking oil, inedible corn oil, tallow, camelina, jatropha and algae. The process is compatible with existing hydroprocessing equipment commonly used in today’s refineries, making it ideal for plants that can be converted to produce renewable fuels.

Honeywell Green Diesel offers up to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions versus diesel from petroleum. Chemically identical to petroleum diesel, Honeywell Green Diesel can be used in any proportion in existing fuel tanks without infrastructure changes. Unlike biodiesel, Honeywell Green Diesel is a drop-in replacement for traditional diesel.

In aircraft, Honeywell Green Jet Fuel can replace as much as 50 percent of the petroleum jet fuel used in flight, without any changes to the aircraft technology, while meeting the current ASTM jet fuel specifications for flight. Depending on the feedstock, Honeywell Green Jet Fuel can offer a 65 to 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with petroleum-based jet fuel.

“Production by AltAir and Diamond Green Diesel demonstrates that the vision of producing real fuels from sustainable feedstocks has taken the crucial step from technology demonstration to commercial-scale production,” said Veronica May, vice president and general manager of Honeywell UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business. “Honeywell UOP is committed to continuing to advance its technology to give fuel producers options to use sustainable feedstocks.”

AltAir’s Green Fleet contract

Earlier this year, the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike fleet of ships and aircraft, began using renewable fuel on regular deployments as part of the Navy’s efforts to demonstrate and deploy alternative sources of fuel, reduce energy consumption, decrease reliance on imported oil and significantly increase use of alternative energy. The ships are being powered by a blend of renewable marine diesel from AltAir – made from domestic sources of inedible waste, fats, oils and greases – and petroleum-based marine diesel. For the initial delivery in January 2016, AltAir prepared 1.34 million gallons of F-76 type Naval Distillate Fuel containing 10 percent HRD and 90 percent petroleum-based fuel.

The United-Fulcrum partnership

In addition to the AltAir partnership utilizing Honeywell UOP technology — last June,  United Airlines announced a $30 million direct investment in advanced biofuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, obtained an option to invest in five future commercial-scale aviation biofuels plants, and signed offtake agreements for up 90 million gallons of biofuels per year. The offtake contracts are worth an estimated $1.58 billion over the 10-year offtake span, based on the current jet fuel price of $1.76 per gallon, according to Digest calculations.

The shift in United’s fuel purchasing represents 3% of its annual fuel consumption, reported by the airline at 3.2 billion gallons in 2013, and comes after Cathay Pacific invested in Fulcrum BioEnergy in 2014 and signed offtake agreements from the company’s first commercial facility, now under development near Reno, Nevada. The five new plants are expected to range in size between 30 and 60 million gallons.

US Renewables Group, Waste Management and Rustic Canyon, among others, have also previously invested in Fulcrum BioEnergy, which converts municipal solid waste diverted away from landfills into diesel and jet fuel. Fulcrum’s first commercial facility is expected to open before the end of 2017.

Visualizing the Fulcrum technology

Waste Makes Haste: The Digest’s 2015 8-Slide Guide to Fulcrum BioEnergy

The Tesoro partnerships

Where is the petroleum coming from for that portion of the blend? Tesoro, which in January unveiled its own plan to foster the development of biocrude made from renewable biomass, which can be co-processed in its existing refineries, along with traditional crude oil. T he company has identified three new partners in the process:

Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc.: Fulcrum plans to supply biocrude produced from municipal solid waste to Tesoro to process as a feedstock at its Martinez, California Refinery. An estimated 800 barrels of biocrude per day will be produced at Fulcrum’s Sierra BioFuels Plant in Reno, Nevada, which is expected to be operational in early 2018.

Virent, Inc.: Tesoro and Virent are working to establish a strategic relationship to support scale-up and commercialization of Virent’s BioForming technology which produces low-carbon, biofuel and chemicals.

Ensyn Corporation: Ensyn has applied for a pathway with the California Air Resources Board to co-process its biocrude, produced from tree residue – called Renewable Fuel Oil – in Tesoro’s California refineries.

The Bottom Line

We’ve said it before. These are the golden days of renewable diesel. Offtakers have the interest. The technology works. More feedstock and more capacity, that’s what’s needed. And some of that starts with policy certainty.

So, all eyes on Washington DC and other capitals. Even while we sneak a peek at the California coast where the activity is humming.

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