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United Airlines completes passenger flight using sustainable aviation fuel

United Airlines completes passenger flight using sustainable aviation fuel

The fuel can be made from grain, oilseeds and other ag residues

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

An American airline recently complete the world’s first passenger flight using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in one of its engines.

United Airlines staff flew 115 people on a Boeing 737 MAX8 jet from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill., to Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Dec. 1.

The flight took off around 1pm and landed around 4pm. The distance between the two airports is about 720 miles.

The jet flew using two of CFM International’s LEAP-1B engines.

In one engine, about 500 gallons of conventional jet fuel. In the other, about 500 gallons of 100 percent SAF.

SAF can be made using multiple agricultural products including soybean oil, animal fats, vegetable oil, corn and other crop straws.

The flight “is not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in industry commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes,” United CEO Scott Kirby, who participated in the flight, said in a statement.

This fuel can help the aviation sector reduce its carbon footprint by up to 80 percent, the International Air Transport Association says.

SAF can also help farmers “earn more money during off seasons by providing feedstocks to this new market, while also securing benefits for their farms like reducing nutrient losses and improving soil quality,” the Department of Energy (DOE) says.

The DOE also estimates the U.S. can produce between 50 and 60 billion gallons of SAF annually.

And more crops are being studied as possible SAF ingredients.

A recent study from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture discovered oil from carinata, also known as Ethiopian mustard, can reduce “up to 68 percent of carbon emissions compared to a unit of conventional aviation fuel in the U.S.”

This non-food crop can be grown in the winter months and its residues are high in protein and can be used for animal feed.

United photo

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