United Continental Holdings announced that its subsidiary Continental Airlines will be operating the first U.S. commercial flight powered by advanced biofuels – and it takes off today.
Flight 1403, a Boeing 737-800, departs Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport at 10:30 a.m. for Chicago O'Hare International Airport, making United the first U.S. airline to fly passengers using a blend of sustainable, advanced biofuel and traditional petroleum-derived jet fuel.
Solazyme, working with Honeywell's UOP process technology, developed the algae oil that was refined into jet fuel to power today's commercial flight. Solazyme produced the world's first 100% algae-derived jet fuel for both commercial and military applications.
As of today, United is announcing it has signed a letter of intent with Solazyme to negotiate the purchase of 20 million gallons of jet fuel per year, derived exclusively from algae oil, for delivery as early as 2014.
"Today, roughly four months since the approval of hydroprocessed renewable fuels in commercial aviation, we are excited to see the deployment of these fuels on a domestic U.S. flight," says Air Transport Association of America (ATA) Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.
What makes it different?
The biofuel used on today's historical flight meets the ASTM International specification for bio-derived aviation fuels, approved in July 2011 and referred to as "Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids" (HEFA) fuel. HEFA fuels underwent rigorous testing and review by engine and airframe manufacturers, the U.S. military, the FAA and airlines.
The biofuel delivers fuel safety and operational characteristics that are identical to conventional jet fuel -- but cleaner. These advanced biofuels are drop-in replacements for petroleum-based fuel, requiring no modification to factory-standard engines or aircraft.
The pilots operating the aircraft fly the plane in exactly the same way they do when flying an aircraft powered only by traditional jet fuel. Passengers on the flight will not see, feel or hear any difference in the aircraft.