United Airlines launches $100 million fund to develop sustainable aviation fuel
Energize Weekly, March 1, 2023
United Airlines, which has supported and invested in a string of projects to develop sustainable aviation fuel, last week announced its latest initiative – a $100 million venture capital fund.
The new United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund will invest in startups focused on accelerating research, production, and technologies for sustainable aviation fuel or SAF.
“This fund is unique,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. “It’s not about offsets or things that are just greenwashing. Instead, we’re creating a system that drives investment to build a new industry around sustainable aviation fuel. … That’s the only way we can actually decarbonize aviation.”
Partners in the fund include Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase, and Honeywell.
Through the fund, these and potentially additional corporate participants will invest alongside United in sustainable aviation fuel technology and production startups identified by United.
Sustainable aviation fuel is being made from used cooking oil and agricultural waste, and, in the future, could be made from other feedstocks including household trash or forest waste.
By some estimates, it produces 80 percent fewer climate-altering greenhouse gases than standard jet fuel.
Since it is made from biowastes, it is seen as a renewable fuel. Currently, it must be blend with conventional jet fuel to meet regulatory requirements for use in aircraft, but the aim it to produce a stand-alone product.
Since 2015, United has made a dozen investments – more than any other airline, according to the company – in sustainable airline fuel technologies, with a potential for future fuel production of three billion gallons.
The airline has made investments or signed purchase agreements with companies for sustainable aviation fuel for a range of technologies and feedstocks, including ethanol, animal byproducts, forestry and crop waste, and municipal waste.
For example, in May 2022, United became the first U.S. airline to a sign an international purchase agreement with Finland-based Neste for up to 52.5 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over three years.
The Neste fuel is produced with renewable wastes and residues including used cooking oil and animal wastes. United planes will be fueled out of the Amsterdam airport and possible additional airports.
In November 2022, United announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the development of a biofuel refinery being developed by NEXT Renewable Fuels in Port Westward, Ore.
And this past January, United said that it will invest in a new $50 million joint venture – Blue Blade Energy – to develop and commercialize an ethanol-based sustainable aviation fuel.
United is teaming up with Tallgrass, which will develop and construct a pilot plant and future production facility, and Green Plains, a biorefining company that will run the operation.
“The production and use of SAF is the most effective and scalable tool the airline industry has to reduce carbon emissions and United continues to lead the way,” Michael Leskinen, the president of United Airlines Ventures, said in a statement.