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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.

Who loses? No one yet, but I expect long-haul peers AMR (NYSE: AMR  ) , Delta (NYSE: DAL  ) , and US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) to watch how United adopts and benefits from Solazyme 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.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Solazyme. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2011, at 2:10 AM, Dekabrist wrote:

    I agree. I think the airline industry will help the stock take off (pun intended), but in the interim the stock price will be very volatile as it builds the infrastructure. Let's hope the company doesn't get ahead of itself.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2011, at 1:58 PM, Figaro24601 wrote:

    I agree as well. Szym could be the man. Lets hope it is a man of maturity as well as stature. One can only trust the vision where the friendly skies are made friendlier when the 2% carbon footprint, for which the airline is responsible, is impacted. The win/win will be felt in the workforce that produces componants for bio-fuel ready engine parts, as well as investors.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2011, at 5:22 PM, foolgabby wrote:

    Interesting, how one of the earliest life forms, a single cell organism-algae, is coming to the forefront to help clean up our mess in more ways than one. Chlorella is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and also helps remove toxic metals from our bodies. I, for one am rooting for this company's success.

    Good health and prosperity to all of you and your children.

    fellow fool

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