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April 19, 2024
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Not government incentives, but those from the industry, investors, and the flying public to stimulate sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) research and other decarbonization initiatives. That’s the idea behind the new $100 million investment fund, that was announced by United Airlines today.

United Airlines Ventures, Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, Honeywell, and JPMorgan Chase are all contributing to the new UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, but it is open to other corporations across the industry. United’s Chief Sustainability Officer Lauren Riley told Reuters that her airline is contributing 49 percent, which translates into some $49 million.

Described as “a first-of-its-kind investment vehicle”, the fund will “support start-ups focused on decarbonizing air travel by accelerating the research, production, and technologies associated with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).” The fund will “prioritize investment in new technology, advanced fuel sources and proven producers, all in an effort to scale the supply of SAF.”

As Lauren Riley told AirInsight last year, the slow pace at which SAF initiatives have progressed over the past few years has been frustrating. She acknowledged that things have improved and plenty of production sites are in de planning schedule for completion in three to four years, not just in de US but elsewhere too. It better is, as according to IATA, the airline industry will require thirty billion liters of SAF by 2030. This compares to the 300-450 million that was expected to be produced last year.

The new fund fits perfectly in United’s strategy to lead the US airline industry when it comes to getting to net zero by 2050. That’s why United Airlines Ventures has invested in various start-ups like biotech firm Cemvita Factory, Dimensional Energy’s carbon dioxide and water conversion e-fuels project, and NEXT Renewable Fuels biofuel refinery. All investments were announced in 2022.

The customer can participate

But there is also a role for its customers, which need to be educated: they can financially contribute to the fund by paying extra for their trip. The default option is to pay $3.50, but customers can also choose $1.00 or $7.00 dollar. United has calculated that “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.”

In the press statement, CEO Scott Kirby says about the fund: “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.”

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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