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United launches Sustainable Flight Fund to scale SAF supply


Photo: United Airlines

In an effort to rally businesses and consumers, United launched the United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund SM Feb. 21, a first-of-its-kind 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, these and potentially additional corporate participants will invest alongside United in SAF technology and production start-ups identified by United.


In the past two years alone, United Airlines Ventures has invested in start-ups such as Cemvita, Dimensional Energy, and Next Renewable Fuels.


And in a first among U.S. airlines, 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. The first 10,000 people who choose to contribute will each receive 500 MileagePlus Miles.


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 3 billion gallons of SAF—the most of any airline in the world.


“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.”


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.


Companies interested in joining the fund can visit united.com/ventures.


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.


United is also educating consumers about their air travel carbon footprint and giving them the option to take action.


Starting Feb. 21 on United.com and the United app, United becomes the first U.S. airline to show 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.


And consumers who book travel 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 refinery capable of producing as much as 40 million gallons of SAF annually.


The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act includes the largest governmental climate-change investments in U.S. history—a new blender’s tax credit specifically for SAF along with other critical incentives for clean energy and carbon capture—that will help spur an increase in SAF infrastructure and supply while lowering costs for SAF consumers.


The U.S. military currently uses nearly 5 billion gallons of jet fuel annually and the Department of Defense will use a jet-fuel blend containing at least 10 percent SAF by 2028 because of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.


And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the country’s vast feedstock resources are enough to meet the projected SAF demand of the entire U.S. aviation industry.


United aims to be 100 percent green by reducing its GHG emissions 100 percent by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets. In addition to the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, United has launched a SAF purchasing program called the Eco-Skies Alliance and established a venture fund, United Airlines Ventures, to identify and invest in companies and technologies that can decarbonize air travel.

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