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Race for Scale: United, Alaska Airlines Launch Commercial Aviation Biofuels Flights

Submitted by on November 7, 2011 – 7:56 amNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  United and Solazyme, Alaska and Dynamic Fuels hook up, as producers scramble to make fuel, raise cash, ratchet down costs. Will producers scale, or fail?

United Airlines will operate the first U.S. commercial flight powered by advanced biofuel, utilizing Solazyme Solajet fuel, on Monday, November 7.

UA Flight 1403 will depart from United’s hub at Bush Intercontinental Airport (the heart of big oil) and fly to the airline’s hub at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The aircraft is a United Boeing 737-800 Eco-Skies aircraft, and Continental pilots will be at the helm.

…The fuel, produced by Solazyme, is a 40/60 blend of sustainable biofuel and traditional petroleum-derived jet fuel. Solazyme’s renewable oils were upgraded into Solafuel by Honeywell’s UOP.

Meanwhile, in Washington state, Alaska Airlines will launch the first commercial, biofuel-powered regularly scheduled flight service in the United States on Wednesday, November 9th.  The flights will run from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and between Seattle and Portland. The maiden flight will leave Seattle on November 9 to Washington, D.C.

Alaska Airlines will fly 75 commercial passenger flights in the United States, in this series, powered by biofuel.  Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier, Horizon Air, will continue to 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 that meets rigorous international safety and sustainability standards.

…Companies that are producing aviation biofuels in test or commercial quantities include a who’s who from the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: Solazyme, Amyris, Sapphire Energy, Rentech, Gevo, Terrabon, Cobalt Technologies, ZeaChem and LanzaTech. Solazyme has inked a deal with Qantas, Rentech has an off take agreement with 13 airlines. LanzaTech signed up with Virgin Airlines in recent weeks, while Gevo has hooked up with United and Cobalt is producing test quantities of fuel for the US Navy.

In California, AltAir Fuels plans to build a biojet plant in Bakersfield that will begin producing fuel in 2012.

…Solena, meanwhile, has inked deals with SAS, Qantas and British Airways…

…Who has production costs and capacities in that range in the near term, say by the time alcohol-to-jet is expected to be approved in 2014?  On paper, there’s Solena, Joule, Coskata, LanzaTech, Algenol,  ZeaChem, and Rentech. Joule needs to get its major demo running, and then is looking to scale in New Mexico.  ZeaChem, Coskata, and LanzaTech  are furiously on the hustings to secure financing for scale.

…Gevo, Solazyme, LS9 and Amyris off take will be generally shunted elsewhere for some time to come – too many upside opportunities elsewhere. Sapphire Energy will be scaling up later in the decade. Companies like Enerkem, Terrabon, Bluefire, POET and Abengoa are more likely to focus on the road transport sector for now. Other companies like Byogy will be brining forward development timelines in the near future, but their path to scale and low-cost is not yet known.    READ MORE and MORE (Alaska Airlines)  and MORE (United Airlines/PR NewsWire) and MORE (Algae Industry Magazine) and MORE (US Department of Transportation) and MORE (GreenAirOnline) and MORE (GreenAirOnline) and MORE (Wall Street Journal)  and MORE (Association of Flight Attendants) and MORE (Alaska Airlines) and MORE (Algae Industry Magazine/Algal Biomass Organization)

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