Airlines Take a Step Toward Cleaner Operations at LAX

Airlines Take a Step Toward Cleaner Operations at LAX

Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Eight big-name airlines such as Southwest, United and American will begin fueling ground service equipment at the Los Angeles International Airport with synthetic biodiesel in 2012.

The airlines -- Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, UPS Airlines and US Airways -- signed a deal to buy as much as 1.5 million gallons annually of RenDiesel, a synthetic diesel fuel to made by Rentech Inc. Aircraft Service International Group, which offers aviation ground, fuel, cargo and airport facility services, will oversee fuel receipt and dispensing.

The move is the latest from an industry that produces roughly 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to the burning of jet fuel. The international aviation industry has said that by 2020, it will continue growing but will keep its emissions flat, a scenario dubbed “carbon neutral growth.” The International Air Transport Association plans to reduce absolute emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It has also set a goal of increasing biofuels consumption to 10 percent of all use by 2017.

Construction of Rentech’s commercial facility that will produce the biodiesel is expected to begin in 2011, with operation slated for 2012. The Rialto Renewable Energy Center in Rialto, Calif., will have the capacity to produce about 600 barrels of synthetic fuel per day, in addition to roughly 35 megawatts of renewable electricity.

The fuel, to be derived from urban woody waste like yard clippings, is biodegradable, low on particulates and sulfur, and will meet California’s recently announced Low Carbon Fuel Standard, according to Rentech.

“The low-emissions profile and near-zero carbon footprint of our renewable RenDiesel will guarantee that the LAX ground service vehicles using this fuel will be among the cleanest and greenest of their kind,” D. Hunt Ramsbottom, Rentech’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “We expect this agreement to serve as a model for future supply relationships at other airports and for other fuels, including Rentech’s synthetic jet fuel, which was recently approved for commercial airline use.”

A number of airlines have tested biofuel on commercial flights since early 2008, when Virgin Atlantic used a mix of coconut and babassu oil on a flight between Amsterdam and London. Other options to reduce the industry's environmental impacts include an optimized air traffic control system and more efficient technology.

Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines.