United Airlines and Honeywell have decided to partner on a multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels, a so-called cleantech company developing technologies for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale by converting biomass into low-carbon, drop-in replacement crude oil for conversion into aviation fuel, the Chicago-based airline said Thursday.
As part of the agreement, United will commit to buying 1.5 billion gallons of SAF from Alder, which the carrier said amounts to one-and-a-half times the size of the known purchase commitments of all global airlines combined, making it “easily” the largest publicly announced SAF agreement in aviation history. United's purchase agreement with Alder 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.
When used together across the fuel lifecycle, Alder's technologies, coupled with Honeywell's Ecofining process, could produce a carbon-negative fuel “at spec” with today's jet fuel. The companies have set a goal to produce a 100 percent drop-in replacement for petroleum jet fuel.
Honeywell’s UOP Ecofining process is the first technology used to maximize SAF production for commercial aviation. Honeywell has agreed to contribute its process of developing sustainable fuels alongside Alder, applying a proprietary hydroprocessing design to help commercialize the technology by 2025.
"Since announcing our 100 percent green commitment in 2020, United has stayed focused on decarbonizing without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “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.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 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 percent of U.S. aviation fuel consumption.
Alder's technology and demand for its fuel from the aviation industry could create a large new market for biomass from regenerative practices. According to Alder, the use of such biomass further enables its 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 the use of widely available, low-cost, and low-carbon feedstock.”