United Airlines wants to use jet fuel made from – trash!

You read the title correctly; sustainable plane fuel is being created out of trash, refuse, and junk!

United Airlines, one of America’s leading airline companies, has chosen to work with global companies to finance a new low-carbon, sustainable fuel derived from, you read correctly, trash! Indeed, the amount of CO2 emissions has everyone down in the dumps and aviation giants are now exploring every (back) avenue to try to reduce their carbon footprint on the world. 

Will people choose to fly on these junk-fueled planes and support this sustainable fuel with their wallets in that way? Or, will they look and say, as Luke Skywalker did in Star Wars: A New Hope – “what a piece of junk”! We’re guessing the won’t; we also don’t believe this new junk-powered fuel will help United make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs? Certainly not! What it will do, however, is take man’s trash and turn it into humankind’s treasure. 

United Airlines said it has joined the “Eco-Skies Alliance” this year along with global firms such as Nike Inc and Siemens AG to help produce around 3.4 million gallons of low-carbon aviation fuel derived from mankind’s ever-growing trash. The exact plan and cost have not yet been disclosed by the 11 partners in this alliance, but the initiative is certainly appreciated.

The battle to convert all airline fuel from standard to sustainable has been going on since 2008 and yet it is estimated that a mere 1% of the world’s fuel is sustainably sourced. Likewise, the consensus, based on the recent assertion of the French aerospace association, is that airplanes contribute up to 3% of all emissions. Several environmental groups, however, argue that this percentage is significantly higher when all things are taken into consideration.

United said they have chosen not to take the path of carbon offsets, or in other words, they will not invest in emissions projects such as reforestation efforts. Their Chief Executive Scott Kirby expressed that they want to tackle the issue at its source, and not offset the damage once it’s already done. Kirby added that he believes there’s a huge appetite for this kind of “junk fuel” precisely because the focus should be on new technologies and not offsets and that this is the way to get emissions to net-zero by 2050. Another technology United has shown interest in is the emerging “carbon-capture” sphere. Kirby pointed out that United is aware that air travel will never be fully decarbonized, but they are determined to do their part before the era of electric planes comes.

Delta Air Lines, one of United’s main competitors, says it plans to replace 10% of its standard fossil fuel with sustainable fuel by 2030, and we say healthy competition is always a good thing! May the race to cleaner fuel continue, as we are all winners in it!

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