United Airlines invests in firm that converts garbage to fuel

Fuel costs are one of the biggest expenses for an airline, but United Airlines hopes to get some help controlling those costs by investing in a California company that can make airline fuel out of household garbage.

That’s right, garbage. And, no, the exhaust of planes using the fuel won’t smell like a Dumpster.

United last month announced a $30-million investment in Pleasanton-based Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc., a private company that plans to build a biofuel refinery near Reno by 2017.

In addition to the investment, United has agreed to buy from Fulcrum at least 90 million gallons of aviation fuel per year for a minimum of 10 years.

The biofuel is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared with conventional jet fuel, a move that could address efforts announced last month by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut emissions from airlines.

United is not the first airline attempting to hedge against volatile fuel costs.

Delta Air Lines invested $150 million in 2012 to buy a refinery from ConocoPhillips.

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