United Airlines first passenger plane to make journey on 100 percent plant-based jet fuel

The "unprecedented flight" is a first in aviation history.

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On December 1, United Airlines flew the first passenger flight using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. The plane departed Chicago O’Hare International Airport and arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a 610 mile trip with 100 passengers on board.

The “unprecedented flight” is a first in aviation history. To date, the United Airlines Eco-Skies Alliance program, which launched in April 2021, “has collectively contributed toward the purchase of more than 7 million gallons of SAF this year alone,” making the airline a leader in the usage of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), alternative fuel made with non-petroleum feedstocks, according to a United Airlines press release.

“United continues to lead from the front when it comes to climate change action,” Scott Kirby, United CEO who was onboard the SAF flight, said. “Today’s SAF flight is not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.”

The SAF flight was on a new United 737 MAX 8 and used “500 gallons of SAF in one engine and the same amount of conventional jet fuel in the other engine to further prove there are no operational differences between the two,” according to a United press release.

According to U.S. Department of Energy, who is a participant in the development of the biofuel technology, SAF has the ability to deliver the same performance as petroleum-based jet fuel and can deliver the same demand because of the country’s large feedstock resources, with less of a carbon footprint. United is already under agreements to “purchase nearly twice as much SAF as the known agreements of all other global airlines combined,” according to a United press release.

The United SAF flight was operated in partnership with Boeing, CFM International, Virent—a subsidiary of Marathon—whose technology enables 100 percent drop-in SAF, and World Energy—the world’s first and North America’s only commercial SAF producer.

“We’re excited to partner with this group of innovative companies that are leading the way in sustainable aviation,” Dave Kettner, president and general counsel of Virent, said. “Virent’s proprietary technology demonstrates that SAF can be 100% renewable and 100% compatible with our current aviation fleet and infrastructure. We are proud to be playing a role in this advancement toward sustainable aviation fuels.”

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