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United Airlines Will Soon Start Using Biofuel

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Later this summer, one United Airlines flight will be routine in all ways but one. The plane, heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco, will be flying on 70 percent traditional jet fuel—and 30 percent biofuel. And this is no one-off gimmick: At first, just four to five flights a day will be flying greener, but after about two weeks, the biofuel—made of food scraps, farm waste, and animal fat—will be added to the airline's overall fuel supply.

This isn't United Airlines' first brush with alternative energy; they've been experimenting with biofuel in test flights since 2009, and in 2011 the airline became the first in the country to partially power a commercial flight with a biofuel when it flew a Boeing 737-800 from Houston to Chicago on a blend of regular fuel and algae-based biofuel. That flight was ground-breaking, but primarily just a publicity stunt—at the time, biofuel production was far too costly to constitute a reasonable alternative.

Now, with newer biofuel technology and a $30 million investment in one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy, United is ready to make a more permanent commitment to the alternative energy. (The first flight this summer will use fuel from a different company, AltAir Fuels.)

Switching from traditional fuel to biofuel has two primary benefits for the environment. First is the drastic cut in carbon emissions, which airlines have been pressured to address for years. Although the biofuel will represent less than half the total fuel used by the airline at first, Fulcrum says that its technology can cut an airline’s carbon emissions by 80 percent compared with traditional jet fuel—an amount that adds up over hundreds and thousands of flights. This will help the airline industry meet its publicized goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to half of their 2005 levels—when planes emitted 318.5 million metric tonnes of carbon—by 2050.

Additionally, biofuel companies make use of the massive amount of organic waste humans produce: Studies have shown that 30 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten and makes up about 20 percent of landfills. Biofuels give this organic trash a new life as sustainable energy.

There are some concerns that biofuel isn't cost efficient or readily available enough to use regularly, but Fulcrum is pushing back against those claims. E. James Macias, Fulcrum’s chief executive, told The New York Times that his company could produce biofuel for "a lot less than" $1 a gallon, which would give airlines yet another incentive to make the switch: United bought its jet fuel for $2.11 a gallon, on average, in the first quarter. And in order to keep up their supply, Fulcrum has inked 20-year agreements with municipal waste management companies.

Although United Airlines will break barriers with their biofuel-powered flight this summer, they're not the only company looking to incorporate sustainable energy systems. British Airways is building a biofuel refinery near London’s Heathrow Airport, which will be completed by 2017; Alaska Airlines aims to use biofuels for flights from at least one of its airports by 2020; and Southwest Airlines has plans to purchase about three million gallons a year of jet fuel made from wood residues from Red Rock Biofuels. All of this is encouraging news coming from an industry that is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution around the world.

[h/t Grubstreet]

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This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

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History
Why Amelia Earhart Is Remembered as One of History's Most Famous Female Pilots
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Amelia Earhart was a legend even before she mysteriously disappeared in 1937 while flying around the world. But the aviator's fame wasn't entirely based on skill alone. As Vox explains, Earhart's reputation eclipsed that of several contemporaries who were equally—if not more—talented than “Lady Lindy." So why did Earhart's name go down in history books instead of theirs?

In addition to her talent and courage, Earhart’s international fame could be chalked up to ceaseless self-promotion and a strategic marriage. It all started in 1928, when socialite Amy Phipps Guest and publishing juggernaut George Putnam handpicked the then-amateur pilot to become the first woman to be flown in a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart wasn't involved with the actual flight process, but the trip still established her as the new female face of aviation (and introduced her to Putnam, her future husband).

After completing the transatlantic journey, Earhart’s profile rose sky-high as she gave public lectures, wrote an aviation column for Cosmopolitan magazine, performed stunts like flying solo across the Atlantic (a feat that was first achieved by Charles Lindbergh in 1927), and endorsed everything from cigarettes to designer luggage. Her celebrity was ultimately cemented with her marriage to Putnam, who orchestrated savvy promotional opportunities to keep his wife’s name in the paper.

Learn more about Earhart’s rise to fame by watching Vox’s video below.

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