United Airlines and its corporate partners have launched the United Airlines Ventures 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 over $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 the airline. In the past two years, United Airlines Ventures has invested in start-ups such as Cemvita, Dimensional Energy and NEXT Renewable Fuels.
United CEO Scott Kirby said: “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 United Airlines Ventures (UAV) Sustainable Flight Fund is open to investment by corporations across industries and 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. (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. To date, United has invested in the future production of over 3 billion gallons 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, besides early-stage promising technologies such as synthetic biology and power to liquids. The airline is also educating consumers about their air travel carbon footprint and giving them the option to take action.
On United.com and the United app, customers can get 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.
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 $7.00. 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. The first 10,000 people to contribute will each receive 500 MileagePlus miles.
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.
United aims to curb its GHG emissions 100 percent by 2050. Besides the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, the airline has launched a SAF purchasing program called the Eco-Skies Alliance and established United Airlines Ventures, a venture fund, to identify and invest in companies and technologies that can decarbonize air travel. These strategic investments include carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft and air taxis.
For more information about the fund, visit united.com.