United invests in biofuels

United Airlines has taken a stake in a biofuel manufacturing company as it prepares to operate a regular flight using a blend of renewable and traditional jet fuels.

The airline has spent $30m on an undisclosed stake in alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc, based in California. The agreement allows United to purchase at least 90 million gallons of sustainable fuel for a minimum of 10 years. The deal is the largest single investment in alternative fuels by a US airline.

Fulcrum converts household rubbish known as municipal sold waste or MSW into renewable jet fuel and claims expected carbon emission savings of more than 80 per cent compared with conventional fuels. The partnership with United includes the joint development of "up to five" projects located near United's hubs with potential production of up to 180 million gallons of fuel a year. It is expected that the first plant will be running by 2017.

"We know alternative fuels is an emerging industry that is vital to the future of aviation and this is just one of our initiatives to help make these fuels saleable and scalable," said United's executive vice president and general counsel Brett Hart.

Separately, United plans to be the first airline to regularly fly a domestic route using alternative fuel. Later this summer, Boeing 737s flying some of United's Los Angeles-San Francisco services will carry a fuel mix that is 30 per cent biofuel generated from farm waste and oils from animal fats.