Biofuel Use in Aviation

Context of Transport Climate Action

Biofuels are made from renewable organic materials and are mainly produced from organic oils such as those derived from camelina, algae and jatropha. They can be blended with conventional fuels, or used in their pure form of 100% biofuel. They are often fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), which are molecules that have many oxygen atoms. This reduces the energy content per kg compared to traditional fossil fuels and because these biofuels are produced from renewable resources, they are seen as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Their CO2- reduction life cycle makes them suitable to help reduce the carbon footprint of transport.

Many kinds of applications for biofuels are currently being researched, including those for the maritime, automotive and aviation sectors.

In the USA, United Airlines has been testing different kinds of biofuels for use in their aircrafts since 2009 and in 2015 they received a WBM (World Bio Markets) bio business award for the biofuel initiative they are working on with Los Angeles international airport.


The biofuels used to power the aircraft are blended with regular jet fuel at a ratio of 30 parts biofuel to 70 parts fossil fuel. The biofuels, which are currently used are made with pyrolysis technology; they are made from non food feedstocks and therefore do not compete or interfere with the production of food and the use of agricultural land.

Aviation biofuels produced by Honeywell’s subsidiary company UOP, using processes based on pyrolysis, have been utilized by Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines and several military forces.


  • In 2009, United Airlines performed its first test with biofuels. The jet fuel that was used was derived from algae.
  • In 2010, new tests were conducted with jet fuel derived from biogas.
  • In 2011, the first U.S. commercial flight was powered with biofuel
  • In 2012, the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels initiative was set up together with Boing, a clean energy trust, Honeywell’s fuel company UOP and the Chicago Department of Aviation.
  • In 2013, United Airlines was the first aviation company to buy cost-competitive biofuels at a commercial scale
  • In 2015, the company started using biofuels for their hub operations at Los Angeles Airport (LAX)

Some key challenges that had to be overcome in the process of establishing the use of aviation biofuels were: finding the right partners, dealing with technical and regulatory concerns and setting up a steady supply of the biofuel.


  • 50% life cycle -CO2 reduction compared to conventional jet fuel
  • Job creation due to the opening of AltAir’s specialized biofuel refinery
  • Reduced dependence on fossil fuels
  • No operational changes are required from the airlines to use biofuels

Potential for scaling up

Within United Airlines but also within the aviation industry as a whole, the use of biofuels has a large potential. Additionally, in the future biofuels could have a much wider range of application in other transport sectors. Biofuel power can be used in automotive vehicles, maritime vessels, aircrafts and many different types of mobile machinery such as generators and power tools.

Selected references



USA, Los Angeles






North America, Mitigation, Passenger, Aviation, Technology


United Airlines, AltAir fuels, UOP, LAX


UOP- Jim anderson Tel: +1-847-391-2000