United Airlines Ventures (UAV), which represents one of the most popular and recognizable airlines in the world, recently announced a partnership with NEXT Renewable Fuels (aka NEXT), in which UAV will invest in a biofuel refinery. NEXT claims the biorefinery they’re developing would be able to produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of renewable diesel, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), and other similar renewable fuels. UAV can be expected to invest up to $37.5 million into NEXT’s biofuel refinery, depending on the company’s progress regarding certain milestones. This partnership is just one of many examples of recent interest worldwide in advanced biofuels.

So, what exactly is SAF? It is made from waste resources and renewable biomass and might have the ability to deliver the same level of high-quality, petroleum-based jet fuel — minus the large carbon footprint. As air travel is typically the least environmentally-friendly mode of travel, UAV’s decision to invest in SAF will hopefully pave the way toward more sustainable flying.

Biofuel, in general, was only used minimally before the 21st century; around that time, biofuel gained in both production and consumption, namely due to government requirements and incentives. Unfortunately, biofuel in its purest state is not all that usable and therefore has faced several logistical challenges. In addition, biodiesel can be difficult to use in the cold, as it gels at higher temperatures than does petroleum diesel. Yet, even companies like ExxonMobil are committed to meeting the increasing demand for advanced biofuels, as they have invested around $250 million in biofuels research in the past decade.

Advanced biofuel companies aim to expand access to sustainable, low-carbon fuels as they work towards lowering emissions in transportation by reaching net zero by a certain deadline. In 2008, history was made when a jet-powered entirely by renewable biodiesel fuel made its first flight. However, more recent flights have utilized other types of biofuel known as aviation biofuel. In 2021, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said that drop-in SAFs are “the only answer between now and 2050″ to reduce carbon emissions.” Time, money, and several other factors will determine how successful these advanced biofuels will become in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and becoming a much more sustainable way to travel. 

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