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United Airlines, Tallgrass and Green Plains Form Joint Venture to Develop New Ethanol-Based SAF

United Airlines has today announced the formation of a joint venture with Tallgrass and Green Plains to develop new sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using ethanol. Using non-petroleum feedstock, the SAF could lower lifecycle GHG emissions by 85 percent.

United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains Form Joint Venture to Develop New SAF Technology Using Ethanol - Courtesy United Airlines

On Tuesday (January 31, 2023), United Airlines announced that they have formed a joint venture with Tallgrass and Green Plains to develop and commercialize sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from ethanol. The JV, called ‘Blue Blade Energy, will create the SAF using non-petroleum feedstock, which offers up to 85 percent lower lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If proven successful, Blue Blade is expected to start construction of a pilot facility in 2024, followed by a full-scale facility that could commence commercial operations by 2028. Ultimately, the offtake agreement could provide enough SAF to operate over 50,000 flights between United’s hubs at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Denver (DEN).

In Tuesday’s announcement, United Airlines Ventures’ President, Michael Leskinen, said,

“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. This new joint venture includes two expert collaborators that have 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.”

Also commenting on the new joint venture, Tallgrass’ Vice President of Business Development, Alison Nelson, said,

“At Tallgrass, we are striving to innovate how we deliver the energy that powers our nation and enables our quality of life. 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.”

Green Plains’ CEO, Todd Becker, added,

“Our transformation to a true decarbonized 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 decarbonized ethanol to be used in SAF. This partnership with world class organizations 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 gamechanger for US agriculture, aligning a strong farm economy and a robust aviation transport industry focused on decarbonizing our skies.”

Blue Blade’s new SAF technology was developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). United, Tallgrass, and Green Plains will each provide their unique industry expetise to develop the joint venture. Tallgrass will manage R&D of the technology, including pilot plant development, and construction of the production facility. Green Plains will supply the low-carbon ethanol feedstock, while United will assist with SAF development, fuel certification and into-wing logistics. United Airlines has also agreed to purchase up to 2.7 billion gallons of SAF produced from the joint venture. Blue Blade Energy marks one of the largest direct investments by United Airlines Ventures, United’s corporate venture arm, into SAF.

Source: United Airlines/PRNewswire


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