Flight 1403, a Boeing (NYSE: BA ) 737-800 jet, started in Mexico this morning. But it's the next flight -- one leaving from Houston at 10:30 a.m. CDT and headed for Chicago -- that made headlines for United Continental (NYSE: UAL ) .
Called an "Eco Skies" test flight, the trip was powered by an algae-based refined fuel blend developed by Solazyme (Nasdaq: SZYM ) with Honeywell (NYSE: HON ) equipment. The fuel blend contains 60% petroleum-based jet fuel and 40% sustainable biofuel. Friendly skies, meet cleaner skies.
While the flight isn't necessarily historic -- Virgin Atlantic was trying biofuels three years ago -- the symbolism is interesting. By starting in Houston and ending in Chicago, the flight traverses the two major hubs of the once-independent carriers that merged to create United Continental.
Who wins moving forward? Certainly Solazyme, which can now point to a letter of intent to purchase 20 million gallons of biofuel per year beginning as early as 2014, according to a Facebook post by United Continental. "Letter of intent" isn't the same as "firm order," I realize, but a successful test coupled with unpredictable oil prices should push United to move forward with plans to use more biofuel.
Boeing should also see benefits. At the very least, outfitting aircraft with biofuel-ready engines should further the eco-friendly reputation it has tried to cultivate with the hyper-efficient 787 Dreamliner. Honeywell, meanwhile, could benefit as more turn to its UOP process for producing green jet fuel.
I've said before that I believe the airline industry has no choice but to free itself from the zigzag chaos of the global oil market. United Continental just took a big step toward that end, and it's likely a matter of time before others follow. I'm closing my underperform call on the stock in CAPS as result and will instead open an outperform call on Solazyme.
Do you agree? How would you rate Solayzme? Please weigh in using the comments box below. And if you're in the mood for more alternative energy ideas, watch this free video. You'll come away with a better understanding of how the law is changing to better suit oil alternatives and hear a winning idea from our Motley Fool Stock Advisor scorecard. Click here to watch now -- it's 100% free.