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United Airlines leads charge on biofuel commitment

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 29, 2019

United Boeing 787-9 N35393 at Sydney Airport. (Kurt Ams/Sydney Airport)
United Boeing 787-9 N35393 at Sydney Airport. (Kurt Ams/Sydney Airport)

United States carrier United Airlines says it has renewed its contract with Boston-based World Energy to buy 10 million US gallons (37,854,117 litres) of sustainable aviation biofuel over the next two years.

Its original contract with World Energy in 2013 paved the way in 2016 for it to become the first, and still the only, airline in the world to use sustainable aviation biofuel on a continuous basis.

It uses the fuel to power every flight departing its Los Angeles hub, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60 per cent on a lifecycle basis. This is where overall greenhouse gas impacts of a fuel are assessed over each stage of its production and use.

United said its biofuel supply agreements represented more than 50 per cent of the commercial aviation industry’s total agreements for sustainable aviation biofuel.

“Investing in sustainable aviation biofuel is one of the most effective measures a commercial airline can take to reduce its impact on the environment,” United president Scott Kirby said in a statement on May 22.


World Energy makes biofuel from agricultural waste and is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. It announced recently it was investing US$350 million (A$505.65m) to convert one of its six low-carbon plants at Paramount, California to renewable diesel and sustainable aviation jet fuel, bringing total capacity to more than 300 million US gallons annually.

The use of sustainable aviation biofuels was among the initiatives United has in place as part of meeting its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, compared with 2005 levels. This was the equivalent of removing 4.5 million vehicles from the road.

Other measures included:

  • the use Boeing’s Split Scimitar winglets on its 737 fleet, which has helped reduce fuel consumption by two per cent versus standard winglets. The airline has 400 aircraft equipped with these winglets.
  • “Repurposing” items from the carrier’s international premium cabin amenity kits and partnering with Clean the World to donate hygiene products to those in critical need.
  • Replacing non-recyclable plastic stirring sticks and cocktail picks on aircraft with ones made from bamboo.
  • Partnering with Audubon International to protect hawks, owls and kestrels in and around United’s hubs and resettling them in habitats where they are more likely to thrive.
  • Replacing ground equipment with cleaner, electrically powered alternatives, with nearly 40 per cent of the fleet converted to date. .


United is among more than 12 US-based airlines and airline management companies that have committed to a 2016 United Nations initiative called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

The Australian and New Zealand governments have signed into the scheme that will see Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand participate on a voluntary basis from 2021.

Meanwhile, Dutch carrier KLM is also pushing forward with sustainable flights. The airline announced this week it will buy 75,000 tonnes of biofuel a year from 2022 from a new plant being developed in Amsterdam.

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