If the technology is successful, Blue Blade is expected to proceed with the construction of a pilot facility in 2024, followed by a full-scale facility that could begin commercial operations by 2028.
The offtake agreement could provide for enough SAF to fly more than 50,000 flights annually between United’s hub airports in Chicago and Denver.
Blue Blade’s new SAF technology was developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a leading center for technological innovation in sustainable energy.
SAF, which uses non-petroleum feedstock, is a low-carbon alternative to traditional jet fuel that offers up to 85% lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.
“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,” said United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
If the technology is commercialised, the location of Blue Blade’s initial plant would allow easy access to low-carbon feedstock from Green Plains’ Midwest ethanol production facilities.
While the initial SAF facility intends to use ethanol, the technology has the capability to work with any alcohol-based feedstock as its fuel source.
Blue Blade Energy marks one of the largest direct investments from United Airlines Ventures (UAV), United’s corporate venture arm, into SAF. Launched in 2021, UAV targets startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets.
United has aggressively pursued strategic investments in SAF producers and revolutionary technologies including carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft and air taxis.