16 April 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

United Airlines’ venture arm adds eight new partners to its $200m Sustainable Flight Fund

United Airlines Ventures has added eight new corporate partners to its Sustainable Flight Fund that aims to reduce emissions from the aviation sector through innovative technology and drive production of sustainable aviation fuel by providing startups with financial and strategic capital. The eight partners – Aircastle (a Marubeni & Mitzuho Leasing Company), Air New Zealand, Embraer, Google, HIS, Natixis Corporate & Investment Banking, Safran Corporate Ventures and Technip Energies – join 14 others in the fund that now exceeds $200 million. Described by United as a first-of-its-kind effort, the fund’s corporate partners make up all parts of the aviation supply chain, including airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel producers, engineering and technology experts, financiers and travel management. United also offers its customers an opportunity to contribute to the fund when booking a flight, which has raised nearly $500,000 since the fund was launched in February 2023. SAF startups supported to date amongst others include Alder Renewables, Cemvita, OXCCU and Fulcrum BioEnergy, while aircraft technology startups include Archer Aviation, Eve Air Mobility, Heart Aerospace and ZeroAvia.

United has ambitions to be net zero by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets and as the largest airline in the world measured by available seat miles, it is investing in companies and technologies, particularly sustainable aviation fuel, that can reduce its future emissions. In addition to the Sustainable Flight Fund, in 2021 it launched the Eco-Skies Alliance that has participation from leading global corporations to help find ways to reduce their environmental impact through the use of sustainable aviation fuels. United says it has already invested in future production of more than five billion gallons of SAF through forward purchase agreements, more than any other airline.

“SAF is the best tool we have to decarbonise airplanes, but we don’t have enough of it,” commented Andrew Chang, Managing Director of United Airlines Ventures. “To create the fuel supply we need for our fleet, United recognised that we would have to help build a brand-new industry from scratch – like wind and solar in previous decades. As part of our effort to build a new sustainable aviation ecosystem, we recruited a group of partners with the industry expertise to support our startups with both financial and strategic capital, to help them navigate the entire process from conception to commercialisation.”

United’s customers using the airline’s website or app, which now show an estimated carbon emissions for each flight, can help supplement the fund by contributing $1, $3.50 or $7 during the flight booking process before check-out. The airline reports 115,000 people have contributed since February 2023. If the 152 million people who flew on United in 2022 each contributed $3.50 to the fund, says the airline, that would be enough to build a SAF refinery capable of producing around 40 million gallons of alternative fuel annually, based on an illustrative capital expenditure benchmark of $200,000 per barrel per day to build such a facility.

One of the new partners in the fund is Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, which sees an increase in the availability of SAF as a “key driving factor” to achieve aviation sustainability and has already performed flight tests on 100% neat SAF. “In a joint collaborative effort with our partners, we can accelerate large-scale SAF production as the aviation industry progresses towards the goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” commented Embraer’s Head of Corporate Innovation, Leonardo Garnica.

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