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Biofuels Are Saving Aviation and Attracting Environmentally Conscious Travelers

Josh Falzone
July 23, 2019

Today, more and more consumers are environmentally conscious travelers. They shop for eco-friendly hotels and vacation packages. However, for some, the amount of carbon emissions caused by air travel has been a hard pill to swallow. Fortunately, some airlines are now using biofuels to significantly reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by their fleets.

Why this matters: Biofuels are playing a significant role in reducing harmful pollution, particularly in the sector that emits the most greenhouse gases—transportation. Utilizing biofuels could reduce carbon emissions from airplanes by 60 percent. American researchers are using feedstocks—like algae, waste, and other types of biomass—to convert into cleaner fuels for use in the sky. Currently, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, and Air France are blending biofuels with conventional fuel to power their jets.

What can be used to create sustainable aviation biofuels? Items such as…

  • corn;

  • algae;

  • vegetable oil;

  • food waste; or even

  • dirty diapers


Go deeper: NBC News: Eco-friendly biofuels made from food waste could cut 'flight shame' among air travelers

What’s happening: In June, United Airlines made history with the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation. To achieve this goal, the flight utilized biotechnology. The flight, deemed “Flight for the Planet,” traveled from Chicago O’Hare to Los Angeles and used sustainable aviation biofuel, zero cabin waste efforts with bio-based products, carbon offsetting, and operational efficiencies.

Go deeper: United Airlines Utilizes Biotechnology for Most Eco-Friendly Commercial Flight of its Kind

What they’re saying: Experts recognize the best way to reduce aviation pollution is to embrace the use of biofuels, especially those made from plants.

“Biofuels are what’s going to save us when it comes to aviation,” said Corinne Scown—a scientist and engineer at the Joint BioEnergy Institute at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Emeryville, California—to NBC News. “There just aren’t a lot of other good options … Our vision is that every time you get on a plane that’s fueled with a biofuel, you are not only not emitting fossil carbon, but you are diverting organics from a landfill or helping to avoid unnecessary wildfires… That’s a few years out, but that’s where I ultimately would like to see us go. And then you hopefully shouldn’t have any plane shame.”

“As an airline, we see our environment from a unique perspective every day and we know we must do our part to protect our planet and our skies.”
– United Airlines President Scott Kirby

“Biology-driven innovations—such as biofuels and bio-based products—are helping preserve our planet, and it’s exciting to see global companies, like United, and consumers embracing these environmentally friendly advancements… BIO supports these efforts and will continue to champion policies that make the promises of biotechnology a reality.”
– Biotechnology Innovation Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood

Big picture: Sustainable aviation travel is on the horizon. As airlines and travelers become more environmentally conscious, researchers and scientists are discovering new, innovative ways to create aviation fuel out of everyday items like plants. By embracing biotechnology, we can mitigate climate change, improve our air and water quality, and lessen the impact air travel has on our planet.