In September of 2021, United and Honeywell announced a joint multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels – a cleantech company that is pioneering first-of-its-kind technologies for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale by converting abundant biomass, such as forest and crop waste, into sustainable low-carbon, drop-in replacement crude oil that can be used to produce aviation fuel. When used together across the fuel lifecycle, the Alder technologies, coupled with Honeywell’s Ecofining™ process, could have the ability to produce a carbon-negative fuel at spec with today’s jet fuel. The goal of the technologies is to produce fuel that is a 100% drop-in replacement for petroleum jet fuel.
s part of the agreement, United is committing to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of SAF from Alder when produced to United’s requirements. United’s purchase agreement, which is one and a half times the size of the known purchase commitments of all global airlines combined, makes this easily the largest publicly announced SAF agreement in aviation history. United’s purchase agreement with Alder also surpasses the previous record set by the airline in 2015 through its investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy with its option to purchase up to 900 million gallons of SAF.
“Since announcing our 100% green commitment in 2020, United has stayed focused on decarbonizing without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets. Part of that commitment means increasing SAF usage and availability since it’s the fastest way to reduce emissions across our fleet. However, to scale SAF as quickly as necessary, we need to look beyond existing solutions and invest in research and development for new pathways like the one Alder is developing,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “United has come further than any other airline making sustainable travel a reality by using SAF to power flights. Our leadership gives customers confidence that they are flying with an airline that recognizes the responsibility we have to help solve climate change.”
“As a pioneer of the SAF market with UOP Ecofining™ technology, our work with United and Alder on this new technology will help transform the industry and support the growth of a zero-carbon economy,” said Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell chairman and chief executive officer. “This solution will not only advance United’s SAF commitment but can help the aviation industry meet its commitments to decouple increases in carbon emissions from growth in passengers.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. forestry residues and agricultural residues alone could provide enough biomass energy to generate more than 17 billion gallons of jet fuel and displace 75% of U.S. aviation fuel consumption. If the U.S. were to broadly adopt regenerative agricultural practices, which capture more carbon in healthier soil compared to traditional methods, the U.S. could generate an additional seven billion gallons of SAF, which would completely replace the U.S.’s current fossil jet fuel consumption.
Alder’s technology and demand for its fuel from the aviation industry create a large new market for biomass from regenerative practices. Use of this biomass further enables Alder’s production process to be carbon negative over the fuel’s lifecycle.
“Aviation poses one of the greatest technology challenges for addressing climate change and SAF has demonstrated the greatest potential. However, there is insufficient raw material to meet demand,” said Bryan Sherbacow, CEO of Alder Fuels and senior advisor to World Energy, the company that owns and operates the world’s first SAF refinery. “Alder’s technology revolutionizes SAF production by enabling use of widely available, low-cost and low-carbon feedstock. The industry is now a major step closer to using 100% SAF with our drop-in fuel that accelerates the global transition to a zero-carbon economy.”
Prior to founding Alder, Sherbacow built the world’s first SAF refinery utilizing Honeywell’s technology and subsequently contracted with United, enabling the airline to become the first globally to use SAF in regular operations on a continuous basis. Since then, United has purchased more SAF than any other airline and, with this agreement now, has more than 70% of the airline industry’s publicly announced SAF commitments. Alder’s research is supported by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, the DOE and a partnership with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), focused on developing technology to process organic waste and sustainable, non-food plant material into carbon-negative transportation fuels.
Honeywell innovation established the SAF market with its UOP Ecofining process, which is the first technology used to maximize SAF production for commercial aviation. Building on Honeywell’s focus to create sustainable technology, Honeywell will utilize its expertise and proven process of developing sustainable fuels alongside Alder, applying proprietary hydroprocessing design to the process to jointly commercialize the technology. Commercialization is expected by 2025. This announcement is a clear example of how Honeywell’s Sustainable Technology Solutions business can partner with early-stage companies and help them scale faster, access customers and advance research and development to help drive sustainability at the global level.
United’s joint investment in Alder is the latest by United Airlines Ventures, a venture fund launched earlier this year that focuses on startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 — without relying on traditional carbon offsets. In 2020, United became the first airline to announce a commitment to invest in carbon capture and sequestration and has since followed with investments in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and 19-seat electric aircraft that have the potential to fly customers up to 250 miles before the decade’s end.