United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains Work for SAF Tech

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by KnowESG,

Green Plains Inc

Image of an United Airlines' Carrier being readied before take off

United Airlines, Tallgrass, and Green Plains Inc. announced a new joint venture, Blue Blade Energy, to develop and then commercialise a novel Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) technology that uses ethanol as its feedstock.

If the technology is successful, Blue Blade is expected to proceed with the construction of a pilot facility in 2024, followed by a full-scale facility that could begin commercial operations by 2028. The offtake agreement could provide for enough SAF to fly more than 50,000 flights annually between United's hub airports in Chicago and Denver.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, made Blue Blade's new SAF technology. PNNL is a leading centre for technological innovation in sustainable energy. SAF, which is made from feedstocks other than petroleum, is a low-carbon alternative to traditional jet fuel that has up to 85% less greenhouse gas emissions over its entire lifecycle.

"The production and use of SAF is the most effective and scalable tool the airline industry has to reduce carbon emissions, and United continues to lead the way," said United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen. "This new joint venture includes two expert collaborators with the experience to construct and operate large-scale infrastructure, as well as the feedstock supply necessary for success. Once operational, Blue Blade Energy has the potential to create United's largest source of SAF providing up to 135 million gallons of fuel annually."

United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains will each provide their unique industry expertise to help develop the joint venture. Under this collaborative approach:

  • Tallgrass will manage research and development of the technology, including pilot plant development, and will manage the construction of the production facility.

  • Green Plains will supply the low-carbon ethanol feedstock and use its ethanol industry expertise to manage operations once the pilot facility is constructed.

  • United Airlines will assist with SAF development, fuel certification and into-wing logistics and has also agreed to purchase up to 2.7 billion gallons of SAF produced from the joint venture.

"At Tallgrass, we are striving to innovate how we deliver the energy that powers our nation and enables our quality of life," said Alison Nelson, Vice President Business Development at Tallgrass. "Air travel uniquely connects people and improves lives, and the advancement of this novel SAF technology presents a meaningful opportunity to reduce emissions from aviation. We are excited to partner with industry leaders United Airlines and Green Plains on this initiative."

If the technology is commercialised, the location of Blue Blade's initial plant would allow easy access to low-carbon feedstock from Green Plains' Midwest ethanol production facilities. While the initial SAF facility intends to use ethanol, the technology can work with any alcohol-based feedstock as its fuel source.

"Our transformation to a true decarbonised biorefinery model has positioned Green Plains to help our customers and partners reduce the carbon intensity of their products by producing low-carbon proteins, oils, sugars and now decarbonised ethanol to be used in SAF," said Todd Becker, President and CEO of Green Plains. "This partnership with world-class organisations like United Airlines and Tallgrass shows the value creation that is possible with our low-carbon platform. The potential impact of this project is a game-changer for US agriculture, aligning a strong farm economy and a robust aviation transport industry focused on decarbonising our skies."

Blue Blade Energy marks one of the most significant direct investments from United Airlines Ventures (UAV), United's corporate venture arm, into SAF. Launched in 2021, UAV targets startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United's goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets. United has aggressively pursued strategic investments in SAF producers and revolutionary technologies, including carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft and air taxis.

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Source: United