United, Tallgrass, Green Plains form JV to develop SAF technology

United Airlines, Tallgrass and Green Plains have announced a new joint venture – Blue Blade Energy – to develop and commercialize a new Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) technology that uses ethanol as a feedstock.

“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 withdrawal agreement could provide enough for the SAF to fly more than 50 000 flights annually between United’s hub airports in Chicago and Denver,” United said in a statement.

Blue Blade’s new SAF technology was developed by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a leading center for technological innovation in sustainable energy, the release added. SAF, which uses non-petroleum feedstock, is a low-carbon alternative to traditional jet fuel that offers up to 85 percent lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.

“The production and use of SAF is the most effective and scalable tool available to the airline industry to reduce carbon emissions, and United continues to lead the way,” said Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures. “This new joint venture includes two expert collaborators who have the experience to build and manage large-scale infrastructure, as well as the raw material supply necessary for success. Once operational, Blue Blade Energy has the potential to create United’s largest source of SAF, providing up to 135 million gallons of fuel per year.”

According to the collaborative approach:
*Tolgrass will manage the research and development of the technology, including the development of a pilot plant, and manage the construction of the production facility;
*Green Plains will supply the low-carbon ethanol feedstock and use its ethanol production expertise to manage operations once the pilot facility is built; and
*United will assist with SAF development, fuel certification and wing logistics, and has also agreed to purchase up to 2.7 billion gallons of SAF produced by the joint venture.

“At Tallgrass, we strive to innovate the way we deliver the energy that powers our nation and enables our quality of life,” said Alison Nelson, Vice President, Business Development, Tallgrass. “Air travel connects people in a unique way and improves their lives, and the advancement of this new SAF technology provides a significant opportunity to reduce aviation emissions. We are thrilled to partner with industry leaders United Airlines and Green Plains on this initiative.”

Todd Becker, President and CEO of Green Plains, added, “Our transformation to a truly decarbonized biorefinery model positions Green Plains to help our customers and partners reduce the carbon intensity of their products by producing low-carbon proteins, oils, sugars and already decarbonized ethanol to be used in SAF. This partnership with world-class organizations such as United Airlines and Tallgrass demonstrates the value creation possible with our low-carbon platform. The potential impact of this project is to change the rules for U.S. agriculture, aligning a strong farm economy and a robust aviation transportation industry focused on decarbonizing our skies.”

If the technology is commercialized, the location of Blue Blade’s initial plant will allow easy access to low-carbon feedstock from Green Plains’ Midwest ethanol production facilities. Although the initial SAF facility intends to use ethanol, the technology has the ability to work with any alcohol-based feedstock as a fuel source, the release added.

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