Algae helps power flight to Chicago

Airplane fueler Monte Hawkins filled the tank in the wing of a United Continental Holdings jet Monday morning with fuel derived partly from algae as the plane prepared to take off into history.

The Boeing 737-800′s flight from Houston was the first by a U.S. carrier to include passengers on a plane powered by a blend that included algae-based biofuel along with conventional petroleum-based jet fuel.

The flight left Bush Intercontinental Airport bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Chicago is the headquarters of Continental parent United Continental Holdings.

United Continental Holdings estimates that the biofuel blend on the flight Monday reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equal to what would come from the exhaust of a car driven 30,000 miles.

Solazyme, based in South San Francisco, worked with Honeywell technology to develop the algae oil that was refined into jet fuel for the flight. United plans to buy 20 million gallons of the oil a year from Solazyme beginning in 2014. The product, refined near Houston, is put into a mix of 40 percent algae-based and 60 percent petroleum-based fuel.

Solazyme officials said the company sold the fuel to United at the same cost as regular jet fuel.

Continental and United merged last year but continue to operate as separate carriers until they receive a single operating certificate from Federal Aviation Administration.

Mixing the biofuels with conventional fuel requires no modifications to the plane, said Pete McDonald, United’s executive vice president and chief operations officer. He said passengers would not notice any difference.

Shenandoah resident Jeff Ashley was one of 154 passengers on the aircraft. He approved of the use of biofuels, but he doesn’t want taxpayers to have to subsidize such efforts.

“I think it’s great,” Ashley said after hearing a news conference about the biofuel flight and before boarding the Chicago-bound plane. “If it helps us become more independent as far as oil and gas, then I think it’s good.”

United isn’t alone in making the move to biofuels. Alaska Airlines announced Monday it will power 75 commercial passenger flights with biofuels starting Wednesday.

Alaska sister carrier Horizon Air then will operate select flights between Seattle and the two cities over the next few weeks using a 20 percent blend of sustainable biofuel made from used cooking oil.

jenalia.moreno@chron.com

3 Comments

  1. Bill in Houston

    Yeah? At what cost? Biofuel is neither cost-effective nor any better for our air. STOP WASTING MONEY ON THIS STUPID, “GREEN,” FEEL-GOOD BOONDOGGLE. While you’re at it, how about starting to offer services again? Anyone can fly on a cattlecar with wings. Charging a fifty dollar premium for a seat that doesn’t go back but offers an addition 2 inches of legroom? PFAH!

    #1
  2. ntangle

    Maybe someday they’ve be able to synthesize hydrocarbons synthetically & cost effectively, without bio components at all. With the right conditions & catalysts, etc. They’d still need an energy source, of course, like solar or geothermal, in order to pump energy into more stable molecules such as CO2 & H2O so they could become more energetic compounds.

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  3. anonymous

    Continental had a successful flight two years ago. Old news!

    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completed. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous! There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results!
    The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at universities for another 50 years?

    In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!

    anonymous

    #3