US Airlines Getting Greener as Biofuels Rule the Air


As people across the globe buy up the Toyota Priuses and electric Ford Focuses and Chevy Volts and switch their cars to biofuels and try to just figure out what is the best way to run cars without sucking up all the oil and polluting the air, there have been a few massive carbon-eating culprits flying around: airplanes.

Virgin Atlantic tried out biofuels three years ago, and is now working on developing the world’s first low-carbon aviation fuel with just half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative, as Richard Branson announced last month. Two years ago, KLM completed the first commercial biofuel flight, while Finnair completed the longest biofueled commercial flight in July.

Now, U.S. airlines are finally getting into the greening business. The Guardian remarked how U.S. airlines are “racing” this month “to demonstrate their clean energy credentials, scheduling a number of flights powered partially by biofuels.”[more]

Take the recent United Continental flight from Houston to Chicago that was powered by a mixture that was 60% conventional fuel and 40% algae-based fuels. 

Or the announcement from Alaska Airlines that, starting this month, 75 of its flights are going to use a mixture that is 80% conventional jet fuel and 20% biofuels. Its biofuels will be cooking-oil or fast-food restaurant discards.

“We can use vegetable oil. We can use used cooking oil,” said Robert Ames, VP of Dynamic Fuels, the fuel’s producer, to the Guardian. “A good mental reference is McDonald’s used fryer grease.”

Eleven of those flights will go from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and back while the rest go from Portland, Ore., to Seattle so that the company can demonstrate how effective biofuels can be on both a transcontinental flight as well as short hops, the paper notes. 

The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, is also working on testing 40 aircraft on a biofuels mix before the end of next year.