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Fast Talk

United Continental Pursues Sustainable Aviation With Biofuels

Investors, researchers, and executives are discovering new ways to make and use biofuels.

Jimmy Samartzis | Photo by  Jay B. Sauceda
Photo by Jay B. Sauceda

Jimmy Samartzis
Managing Director of Environmental affairs and Sustainability / United Continental

Samartzis manages the airline's environmental efforts, which include testing biofuels and partnering with biofuel producers.

"Fuel is our largest expense. That drives our interest in alternative fuels. So does sustainability. We're talking to some potential partners about availability beginning as early as 2012. What's key for us is agreeing on a price we can afford. And, frankly, we can't afford much more than what we pay for conventional jet fuel. We have partnerships with Rentech, Gevo, Solena, and Altair. Rentech made the synthetic fuel for a 2010 United test flight. For a 2009 Continental test flight, Sapphire Energy provided algae oil, and Terasol Energy provided jatropha oil. A lot of our work happens with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, an FAA-sponsored group of U.S. commercial aviation companies. We've also worked with the Defense Logistics Agency within the Department of Defense. It's responsible for procuring the fuel the military uses."

More Fast Talk: The Fuel Futurists
Mary Tilton

Read the extended interview

A version of this article appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.