Two airlines — JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic – have announced major advances in their programs to use biofuel or other renewable fuels to power their airliners. The two airlines join United Airlines in helping the airline industry inch away fossil fuels and related carbon emissions.
Earlier this month, JetBlue announced it had signed a 10-year purchase agreement for renewable jet fuel from bioenergy company SG Preston. SG Preston will produce biofuel using “rapidly renewable, bio-based feedstocks that do not compete with food production,” according to JetBlue. The airline also says the agreement is “one of the largest renewable jet fuel purchase agreements in aviation history, and the largest, long-term, binding commitment by any airline globally” for this kind of biofuel.
JetBlue says it will buy at least 33 million gallons of blended jet fuel each year for at least the next decade. The fuel will be 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional aviation fuel. The purchase represents about 20 percent of JetBlue’s annual fuel consumption at its hub at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Also this month, Virgin Atlantic said its ongoing low-carbon fuel project has led to the creation of 1,500 gallons of jet fuel derived from waste gases from steel mills. The airline and its biofuel partner, Chicago-based LanzaTech, have been working on the fuel since 2011. It was produced at a facility in China.
“This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry’s reliance on oil within our lifetime,” Virgin Atlantic Chairman Richard Branson said. “Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to test a biofuel flight and continues to be a leader in sustainable aviation.”
The announcements from Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue follow United Airlines’ news in March that it had started using sustainable aviation biofuel for regularly scheduled flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco. United said it is the first U.S. Airline to use biofuel for regular flights.
The airline says it will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel from AltAir Paramount over the next three years. Its Los Angeles-San Francisco flights used a 70/30 blend of the biofuel for two weeks, with United planning to integrate the fuel into its regular operations at Los Angeles International Airport.
The use of the fuel is “a major next step in our ongoing commitment to operate sustainably and responsibly,” said Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director of environmental affairs and sustainability. “United is a leader in the advancement of alternative fuels, and, along with our partners at AltAir Paramount, we are taking action every day to minimize our impact on the environment and explore new ways to improve efficiency.”
The use of blended biofuels can cut an airliner’s carbon emissions by more than half, though experts say biofuels are unlikely to make a significant difference in overall carbon emissions, at least in the near term, because of the huge amounts of fuel that airlines use. United, for instance, uses more than 3 billion gallons of aviation fuel each year, according to the Los Angeles Times — meaning its biofuel deal will make up less than 1 percent of its annual fuel needs.