Your Next United Flight Might Be Powered By Farm Waste

By Adele Peters, Fast Company.

If you happen to get on a United flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco this fall, you might be traveling on leftovers from the farm. The airline will be the first in the country to start flying regular passenger flights on alternative jet fuel—in the case, made from a mix of non-edible oils and agricultural waste blended with traditional fuel.

"We believe that one of our greatest opportunities to reduce the aviation industry’s environmental footprint is through sustainable alternative fuels," says Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director for environmental affairs and sustainability.

United flew the first biofuel test flight in the U.S. in 2009 (using algae), and the first commercial flight in 2011. The company signed an agreement with AltAir Fuels—the company supplying the new fuel to LAX—six years ago. But it's only now that the biofuel industry is beginning to get to the point to supply regular flights. The challenges of scaling up have involved the cost alternative fuel feedstock and raising sufficient capital investments, Foster-Rice says.