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Algae helps fuel flight to Chicago

November 8, 2011, 06:12 pm

A United Continental Holdings jet was recently filled with fuel partly derived from algae before it completed its flight from Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, marking the first flight of its size in history to be completed with an alternative fuel source.

United Continental Holdings estimates that the blend of fuel and algae reduced carbon dioxide emissions equal to the pollution from a car driven 30,000 miles, Fuel Fix reported. The biofuel was created by Solazyme and Honeywell technology, and refined into jet fuel for the historic flight. The blend is composed of 40 percent algae-based and 60 percent petroleum-based fuel, and United has already committed to buy 20 million gallons of the fuel starting in 2014.

Pete McDonald, United's executive vice president and chief operations officer, told the news source that mixing the biofuels with conventional fuel does not require any changes to the plane, and passengers will likely not notice a difference.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air will be using a 20 percent biofuel blend in its planes for 75-passenger flights. The airlines expect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent with the new fuel source. Similarly, other U.S. airlines are expected to follow suit and try to fly more cleanly and economically with use of biofuel alternatives, especially since crude oil is current hovering around $100 a barrel or higher. The new fuel could reduce costs for hobby pilots as well, as and aid in affording important pilot insurance products. 

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