(22/02/23) United Airlines Ventures has launched a sustainable flight fund, an investment vehicle designed to support start-ups focused on decarbonizing air travel by accelerating the research, production and technologies associated with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
The fund starts with more than $100 million in investments from United and its inaugural partners: Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase and Honeywell.
Through the fund, those and potentially additional corporate participants will invest alongside United in SAF technology and production start-ups identified by United.
United Airlines Boeing 767 reg: N652UA flying LHR-ORD. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com
In the past two years alone, United Airlines Ventures has invested in start-ups such as Cemvita, Dimensional Energy and NEXT Renewable Fuels.
The airline is also getting customers involved, as anyone who buys a ticket on the United website or app now has the option to contribute to supplement United’s investment in the fund. To celebrate the launch, the first 10,000 people who choose to contribute will each receive 500 MileagePlus Miles as a thank you.
“Solving climate change is doable but it requires hard work and real leadership,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “This fund is unique. 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, essentially from scratch. That’s the only way we can actually decarbonize aviation.”
SAF is an alternative to conventional jet fuel that, on a lifecycle basis, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with air travel compared to conventional jet fuel alone.
SAF, which currently must be blended with conventional jet fuel to meet regulatory requirements for use within the aircraft, 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.
To date, United has invested in the future production of over three billion gallons of SAF – the most of any airline in the world.
United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund
The UAV Sustainable Flight Fund is open to investment by corporations across industries and the fund will prioritize investment in new technology, advanced fuel sources and proven producers, all in an effort to scale the supply of SAF.
Partners of the fund also have the potential to gain preferential access to environmental attributes associated with United’s supply of SAF.
United has already made investments in or signed purchase agreements with companies using a variety of ingredients and technologies to produce SAF, including feedstocks like ethanol, animal byproducts, forestry and crop waste, and municipal waste, as well as early-stage, promising technologies like synthetic biology and power to liquids.
United Airlines Ventures will move selected existing SAF investments to establish the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund portfolio.
Consumer Awareness and Call to Action
United is also educating consumers about their air travel carbon footprint and giving them the option to take action.
On United’s website and app, the airline now shows customers an estimate of each flight’s carbon footprint in their search. Green shading will indicate a lower-carbon option on a per economy seat passenger basis in a customer’s chosen itinerary.
A flight’s carbon footprint is measured in kg CO2e (kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent) and United’s estimates, which could differ from actual flight emissions, are based on aircraft type, flying time, seat capacity and the number of people and cargo on a given flight.
Travellers who book through United for travel within or from the U.S. will now see an option to contribute to supplement United’s investment in the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund before check-out. Customers have the choice to contribute $1, $3.50 or $7.
The default option for customer contributions is set at $3.50 to illustrate the potential impact of customer action at scale: if the 152 million people who flew on United in 2022 each contributed just $3.50 to the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, that would be enough to design and build a SAF refinery capable of producing as much as 40 million gallons of alternative fuel annually.
United’s aim is to be 100% green by reducing its GHG emissions 100% by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.