Green Aviation up to New Heights
This turns out to be quite a week for green aviation. First, an incredible milestone in the historic journey of the Solar Impulse as the fuel-free aircraft successfully completed a five-day crossing of the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii, the longest solo manned flight in history. While the realization of commercial solar-powered flight is likely still decades away, this inspirational journey sets a high bar against which all other efforts must ultimately be measured.
Then, United Airlines, announced that it would invest $30 million in a program that would produce jet fuel from trash. Pleasanton, California-based Fulcrum BioEnergy specializes in producing both aviation and diesel fuel from ordinary household waste. The company has committed to produce as much as 180 million gallons of this fuel per year. Fulcrum’s process, according to spokesperson Karen Bunton, “has been thoroughly vetted by numerous third parties including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture” and has been found to meet “all of the aviation industry and military technical requirements and specifications.”
Fulcrum is preparing to begin construction on the Sierra BioFuels Plant near Reno, Nevada, that is expected to produce 10 million gallons of ethanol annually using household garbage. Bunton said the plant used a modular design that can be “easily replicated and scaled to build larger facilities that will produce between 30 and 60 million gallons of competitively-priced jet fuel or diesel per year.”
This is hardly United’s first venture into alternative fuels. In 2013, the airline signed an agreement with AltAir Fuels to purchase 15 million gallons of biofuel derived from camelia, a distant relative of canola. The fuel, which is produced in Southern California, is being used exclusively on flights taking off from LAX. Back in 2011, United flew a commercial leg between Houston and Chicago with a blend of 40 percent algal-based biofuel from Solazyme.