United Airlines, Tallgrass, and Green Plains Iaunch new Blue Blade Energy JV focused on ethanol


United Airlines, energy infrastructure company Tallgrass and biorefiner Blue Blade Energy have launched a new ethanol Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) joint venture.

Blue Blade plans to build a pilot facility in 2024, with a full-scale facility opening in 2028. It is using technology developed by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 

“This new joint venture includes two expert collaborators that have the experience to construct and operate large-scale infrastructure, as well as the feedstock supply necessary for success,” said Michael Leskinen, president, United Airlines Ventures. “Once operational, Blue Blade Energy has the potential to create United’s largest source of SAF providing up to 135 million gallons of fuel annually.”

This is one of the largest investments that United Airlines Ventures has made.

Blackstone backed Tallgrass will build the pilot and production facilities with Green Plains supplying the ethanol and running the refinery once it is built. United has agreed to buy 2.7 billion gallons of SAF from the plant as well as helping with certification and logistics. The plant will be designed for ethanol but can work with any alcohol.

“At Tallgrass, we are striving to innovate how we deliver the energy that powers our nation and enables our quality of life,” said Alison Nelson, vice president, Business Development at Tallgrass. “The advancement of this novel SAF technology presents a meaningful opportunity to reduce emissions from aviation.”

If the pilot is successful, the commercial plant will be built near Green Plains’ Midwest ethanol production facilities.

 “Our transformation to a true decarbonized biorefinery model has positioned Green Plains to help our customers and partners reduce the carbon intensity of their products by producing low-carbon proteins, oils, sugars and now decarbonized ethanol to be used in SAF,” said Todd Becker, president and CEO, Green Plains. ” The potential impact of this project is a gamechanger for US agriculture, aligning a strong farm economy and a robust aviation transport industry focused on decarbonizing our skies.”