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United Airlines, Honeywell invest in Alder Fuels to make SAF

Chevron, Gevo to jointly invest in sustainable aviation fuel
Photo courtesy of United Airlines

United Airlines and Honeywell announced a joint multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels, a cleantech company that is pioneering first-of-its-kind technologies for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale by converting abundant biomass, such as forest and crop waste, into sustainable low-carbon, drop-in replacement crude oil that can be used to produce aviation fuel. 

When used together across the fuel lifecycle, the Alder technologies, coupled with Honeywell’s Ecofiningโ„ข process, could have the ability to produce a carbon-negative fuel at spec with today’s jet fuel. The goal of the technologies is to produce fuel that is a 100% drop-in replacement for petroleum jet fuel.

Purchase agreement

As part of the agreement, United Airlines is committing to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Alder Fuels when produced to United Airline’s requirements. United Airlines’s purchase agreement, which is one and a half times the size of the known purchase commitments of all global airlines combined, makes this easily the largest publicly announced SAF agreement in aviation history. United Airline’s purchase agreement with Alder Fuels also surpasses the previous record set by the airline in 2015 through its investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy with its option to purchase up to 900 million gallons of SAF.

“Since announcing our 100% green commitment in 2020, United has stayed focused on decarbonizing without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets. Part of that commitment means increasing SAF usage and availability since it’s the fastest way to reduce emissions across our fleet. However, to scale SAF as quickly as necessary, we need to look beyond existing solutions and invest in research and development for new pathways like the one Alder is developing,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

“As a pioneer of the SAF market with UOP Ecofiningโ„ข technology, our work with United and Alder on this new technology will help transform the industry and support the growth of a zero-carbon economy,” said Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell chairman and chief executive officer. “This solution will not only advance United’s SAF commitment but can help the aviation industry meet its commitments to decouple increases in carbon emissions from growth in passengers.”

Creating large new market for biomass

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. forestry residues and agricultural residues alone could provide enough biomass energy to generate more than 17 billion gallons of jet fuel and displace 75% of U.S. aviation fuel consumption. If the U.S. were to broadly adopt regenerative agricultural practices, which capture more carbon in healthier soil compared to traditional methods, the U.S. could generate an additional seven billion gallons of SAF, which would completely replace the current fossil jet fuel consumption in the United States.

Alder Fuel’s technology and demand for its fuel from the aviation industry create a large new market for biomass from regenerative practices. Use of this biomass further enables Alder Fuel’s production process to be carbon negative over the fuel’s lifecycle.

“Aviation poses one of the greatest technology challenges for addressing climate change and SAF has demonstrated the greatest potential. However, there is insufficient raw material to meet demand,” said Bryan Sherbacow, CEO of Alder Fuels and senior advisor to World Energy, the company that owns and operates the world’s first SAF refinery. “Alder’s technology revolutionizes SAF production by enabling use of widely available, low-cost and low-carbon feedstock. The industry is now a major step closer to using 100% SAF with our drop-in fuel that accelerates the global transition to a zero-carbon economy.”

World’s first SAF refinery

Prior to founding Alder Fuels, Sherbacow built the world’s first SAF refinery utilizing Honeywell’s technology and subsequently contracted with United, enabling the airline to become the first globally to use SAF in regular operations on a continuous basis. Since then, United Airlines has purchased more sustainable aviation fuel than any other airline and, with this agreement now, has more than 70% of the airline industry’s publicly announced SAF commitments. Alder Fuelsโ€™ research is supported by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. DOE and a partnership with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), focused on developing technology to process organic waste and sustainable, non-food plant material into carbon-negative transportation fuels.

Honeywell innovation established the SAF market with its UOP Ecofining process, which is the first technology used to maximize SAF production for commercial aviation. Building on Honeywell’s focus to create sustainable technology, Honeywell will utilize its expertise and proven process of developing sustainable fuels alongside Alder Fuels, applying proprietary hydroprocessing design to the process to jointly commercialize the technology. Commercialization is expected by 2025. 

United Airlines’ joint investment in Alder Fuels is the latest by United Airlines Ventures, a venture fund launched earlier this year that focuses on startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United Airlines’ goal of net zero emissions by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.