United Airlines (UAL) , which uses about 4 billion gallons of fuel annually -- making it one of the world's biggest fuel consumers -- also has become the airline industry's leader in seeking to reduce global carbon emissions.
United said it accounts for about 60% of the global aviation industry's commitment to biofuels. It expects to purchase about 900 million gallons of biofuel or 90 million gallons a year for the next 10 years.
According to United figures, Cathay Pacific is second, committed to 413 million gallons of biofuel use, while JetBlue is committed to 109 million gallons, Lufthansa is committed to 42 million gallons and other airlines collectively are committed to about 70 million gallons.
In March, in a demonstration of its commitment, United became the first U.S. airline to use a high percentage of biofuel (about 30%) to power a regularly scheduled flight, which operated between Los Angeles and San Francisco for two weeks.
In a continuing effort, at Los Angeles International Airport, United has spearheaded the inclusion of biofuel (a single-digit percentage) in the airport fuel supply used by all of the airport's carriers.
On Friday, sustainability officers from United, JetBlue and Alaska will discuss their efforts during the final day of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. conference presented by Jersey City, N.J.-based Companies Vs. Climate Change, which seeks to provide a forum for businesses to discuss climate change solutions.
United is "trying to grow the biofuels industry for aviation," said Natalie Mindrum, the carrier's director of environmental responsibility. "We want to be a leader in this area."
Biofuels are sustainable fuels created from renewable sources, such as agricultural waste and even household wastes, but not, in United's case, from corn or other edible sources. "We are not competing with food sourcing," Mindrum said.
U.S. commercial aviation produces 2% of the nation's man-made greenhouse gas, while driving 5% of GDP, according to figures from Airlines for America.
Most airlines seek to reduce fuel use through the purchase of new aircraft, the installation of winglets on aircraft, and fuel conservation programs such as single-engine taxi, careful calibration of how much fuel to carry and the use of electricity rather than engines when aircraft are on the ground.
But United goes a step farther in its biofuels commitment, which has played out in two efforts.
One is a partnership with AltAir Fuels, a Paramount, Calif.-based biofuel company. United signed its first agreement with Altair in 2009; fuel production begin in March 2016. "We will purchase up to 15 million gallons annually over the next three years," Mindrum said. "This is a small percentage, but we have to start somewhere."