United, Honeywell Announce New SAF Investment

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United Airlines and Honeywell have announced a multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels, a company developing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production technologies. According to United, Alder plans to produce 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.” The stated goal of the collaboration is to produce a drop-in replacement for petroleum jet fuel.

“Since announcing our 100% green commitment in 2020, United has stayed focused on decarbonizing without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets,” said United 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.”

As part of the agreement, United has committed to purchasing 1.5 billion gallons of SAF from Alder provided the fuel meets the airline’s requirements. The airline noted that the 20-year purchase agreement is the largest publicly announced SAF agreement to date. Alder’s research is also being supported by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Energy (DOE) and a partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

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26 COMMENTS

    • Sure it does. There is a difference between carbon which was captured from the atmosphere millions of years ago, and sequestered as petroleum, versus carbon which was captured from the atmosphere in recent months by forests and crops. Spitting the former out of the back of an engine increases the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Spitting the latter out, returns carbon to the atmosphere from which it recently came.

      • That’s even funnier. Chemistry does not care. If anything the process will keep jets flying decades LONGER into the future than they otherwise would and so will increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere HIGHER than otherwise. Duh!

  1. “National Renewable Energy Laboratory” WHAT !! What Congressional Act authorized established of still another bureaucratic entity filled with overpaid and underworked civil servants ? They’re probably all hiding in their basements yet drawing SES pay ?

    • Sorry to inform you, Larry, but NREL has been around for a long time. It was originally formed in 1974 as the Solar Energey Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. It morphed into NREL in the early ’90s under then-President George HW Bush. Its staffing and budget have bounced up and down through various administrations, but presently has a budget of around $550 million and a staff of about 2,680, mostly PhD research types. NREL is designed to do basic R&D type studies in conjunction with private industries so that the technology will eventually be transferred to the companies for commercialization (your tax dollars in action). They have done quite a bit of research into biomass type vegetation conversion to either ethanol or synthetic oil for refining into fuels. It’s a pretty safe bet that Alder is the benefactor of some of that “technology transfer”.

  2. Really? Not again! Having worked in agriculture for more than five decades, I have had more than a little exposure to the whole bio fuels circus. One of my ongoing interests is to get a technical definition of “sustainable” agriculture. I have yet to get an answer. As for waste biomass conversion to usable fuels, that was the promise of the near future at least 30 years ago when using corn and soybeans to produce ethanol and biodiesel were just temporary steps before converting to waste biomass and the use of cellulosic digestion to make ethanol, and no reasonable substitutes for light oil based products. Everyone is still waiting after decades of research that failed to provide a workable substitution of waste biomass for fuel production.
    Hundreds of studies have been done to evaluate the comparative energy and resource inputs to measure whether there is a net gain in energy and carbon offsets from the conversion of crops into combustible fuels. Most of those studies (essentially all if you look outside the corn/soybean belt) show there is usually a net loss in the conversion (you put in more energy and carbon than you get back), a few that suggest a break even outcome, and very occasionally one that shows a small net gain.
    The current problems with this scheme include the high energy inputs to collect, haul, and process waste biomass, the lack of direct conversion from biomass to usable fuels, and of course the carbon dioxide release from providing the heat energy and transportation. This does not include air pollution restrictions in states like CA were burning biomass has essentially outlawed by the CA air resources board.
    Simply put, more green washing and woke virtue signaling by United and Honeywell, and probably a con job by Alder.

    • “Sustainable’ is a scam, based on shortage mentality.

      Free people protected by defense and justice systems feed people and invent substitutes where needed.

      Dig deep and you’ll find the ideology of fixed-pie economics and drive-to-the-bottom ethics that comes from denial of the effectiveness of the human mind for life – Marxism.

  3. Sustainable aviation fuel is basically the only hope for long haul airline flying over the next 50 years. Flying batteries are not going to cut it, and the greenies WILL have their way. If you thought restrictions on your life for covid were bad, wait till you see the restrictions for climate change. We had better hope that SAF works.

  4. “Hundreds of studies have been done to evaluate the comparative energy and resource inputs to measure whether there is a net gain in energy and carbon offsets from the conversion of crops into combustible fuels. Most of those studies (essentially all if you look outside the corn/soybean belt) show there is usually a net loss in the conversion (you put in more energy and carbon than you get back), a few that suggest a break even outcome, and very occasionally one that shows a small net gain.”

    Flying through Brazil years ago on the way to Antarctica in a Cessna Caravan, we toured a “sustainable fuel” project. Many schemes were tried, but unlike our government, Brazil was prescient enough to mandate “You can’t USE FUEL TO MAKE FUEL–unless you can show a net gain, with processing and transportation included.” Most attempted production using sugar cane–unlike corn, it was fast growing, required little land prep or cultivation, and was cheap (best of all, you can burn the stalks to run the distiller–unlike corn). Sugar cane was the only fuel (at the time) that could meet the “net gain” mandate.

    According to the latest report I can find–Reuters–Oct. 30 2019, 96% of Brazilian ethanol is from sugar cane. (unfortunately, sugar cane production won’t work in the continental U.S.) According to the same report, “Brazil to remain net ethanol importer”. I’d like to see a study showing that the U.S. actually MAKES net fuel, after subtracting the fuel used to farm the land, transport the corn, and transfer the ethanol for blending in a refinery.

    I particularly liked “The current problems with this scheme include the high energy inputs to collect, haul, and process waste biomass, the lack of direct conversion from biomass to usable fuels, and of course the carbon dioxide release from providing the heat energy and transportation. This does not include air pollution restrictions in states like CA were burning biomass has essentially outlawed by the CA air resources board.
    Simply put, more green washing and woke virtue signaling by United and Honeywell, and probably a con job by Alder.”

    As for me, I’ll do the country a favor, and not use the stuff in the King Air I fly.

  5. Carbon release from burning SAF does not have a carbon footprint, in the same way that the carbon you exhale does not have a carbon footprint. All the carbon you exhale was sucked from the air by plants, so it is a closed loop. So it would be with SAF.

      • Fossil fuel is carbon that is stuck deep in the ground, we pull out it out and burn it in airplanes, that adds carbon to the atmosphere because otherwise it will have just stayed in the ground.

        When plants or trees grow, they suck carbon out of the atmosphere to create their structure. All of the carbon in a plant or tree comes from the air. You harvest* those for food (or SAF), then you burn it in your stomach or jet engine and release carbon dioxide, but it is exactly the same amount of carbon that was in the plants, which was all taken from the atmosphere, using solar energy. So it’s a closed loop.

        The harvest and processing is where things go wrong as Jim points out above. All the energy required for harvest and processing may require carbon, which means it has a carbon footprint unless you are using nuclear or solar or whatever for that part.

        • Thanks, but I think you are glib on breathing. Perhaps you want to say something about balance.

          I understand that decaying vegetation is carbon, fossil fuels are ancient decay but you will say it is extra when burned now in addition to current decay. (Beware that vegetation decay is controversial and there are many other current non-human factors – the science is very incomplete.

          And there are volcanoes.

          But it doesn’t matter because humans are not and cannot causing runaway climate temperature – the basic physics of greenhouse gases limits the amount of temperature increase to a small amount most of which has already been realized. That’s the ‘saturation’ effect from overlap of absorption-emission spectra of carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide. Even the IPCC agrees but theorizes positive feedback when evidence is feedback is negative.

          Earth’s climate was warmer during the Medieval Warm Period when Vikings farmed southwest Greenland.

      • Simple. It is a matter of when the carbon came out of the atmosphere, relative to human lifetimes. The carbon released by burning SAF was captured from the atmosphere in recent months by plants. The carbon released by burning petroleum was captured from the atmosphere millions of years ago. That time difference matters for the impact on the climate.

  6. The comment was not about SAF carbon footprint–instead, it addressed whether production of Ethanol actually DOES anything, considering the fuel used in production of Ethanol. In Brazil’s case, the only way to make it productive is using sugar cane–both for the feed stock and the stalks to run the distillery. That doesn’t appear to be an option in the U.S. (or even northern Brazil)

    By the time you apply fertilizer, till the ground, harvest the corn, dry it, and transport it, (all requiring fuel) it becomes dubious that any fuel is actually being saved. I’d LIKE to see it work, but have yet to see a “closed loop example”–fuel expended vs. produced. In my childhood, people still discussed “perpetual motion machines” as a way of producing useful work–none have ever been produced. Emilie du Chatelet–“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. For instance, chemical energy is converted to kinetic energy when a stick of dynamite explodes…….”but energy is not CREATED.

    • It wouldn’t be a perpetual motion machine because sunlight is your input to grow the crops. To be honest I don’t know enough about the state of the technology on it to say whether it is a pipe dream or not. My uninformed impression is that it is a lot more practical to reduce carbon than electric aircraft (that may not be saying much), but it is underfunded due to the aesthetics of it not being pleasing to environmentalist types, who’s preferred solution seems to be population collapse, subsistence farming, drum circles, and shivering in the dark.

        • Arthur, slow down and take a breath. Plants are made of carbon. Growing plants takes carbon out of the atmosphere. If all your fuel is made from plants, then all the carbon you released in the airliner came from those plants, which got it from the atmosphere in the first place. Zero* carbon.

          Not zero, because maybe the processing of turning plants into fuel burns carbon. But hopefully approaching zero as technology improves.

          • Growing plants (and then converting to fuel) takes huge amounts of resources. You end up with a net INCREASE in emissions plus a loss of fresh water and other precious resources. Think it through.