United Airlines and other companies have introduced an investment fund, starting with more than $100 million, to give sustainable flights a boost.
The United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund aims to support startups working to reduce carbon emissions in air travel and accelerate the “research, production and technologies associated with sustainable aviation fuel [SAF].”
United and its inaugural partners – Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase and Honeywell – provided the initial investment.
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United CEO Scott Kirby calls the fund “unique” and says it is “not about offsets or things that are just greenwashing.”
“We’re creating a system that drives investment to build a new industry around sustainable aviation fuel, essentially from scratch,” Kirby says. “That’s the only way we can actually decarbonize aviation.”
SAF is made from used cooking oil and agricultural waste and one day could be made from household trash or forest waste, United says. SAF currently must be blended with conventional jet fuel to meet regulatory requirements.
The new fuel has the potential to “deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel but with a fraction of its carbon footprint,” enabling airlines to decouple greenhouse gas emissions from flight, according to the Department of Energy.
United is enlisting help from its passengers. When booking a flight on the United website or app, travelers can opt to give pre-set amounts of $1, $3.50 or $7 to the fund. The first 10,000 people to contribute will be awarded 500 MileagePlus miles.
United also says it is the “first U.S. airline to show customers an estimate of each flight’s carbon footprint in their search.” Lower-carbon options will be shaded in green, according to the Chicago-based airline.
United will select the startups, specializing in SAF technology and production, to receive money from the investment portfolio. The fund is open to corporate investment and will prioritize investment in “new technology, advanced fuel sources and proven producers.”
In the past two years, United Airlines Ventures has invested in startups including Cemvita, Dimensional Energy, and NEXT Renewable Fuels.
The International Air Transport Association estimated last year that production of SAF increased 200% in 2022 compared with 2021.
In June, Stockholm-based Braathens held what it claims to be the first regional flight using 100% SAF in both engines to “show that it’s possible.”