ImpactAlpha, February 23 — Chicago-based United Airlines is seeking to scale up the supply of sustainable aviation fuel to decarbonize commercial air travel. Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act included tax incentives for airlines to transition from kerosene-based jet fuel.
United’s Sustainable Flight Fund has raised $100 million Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase and Honeywell. United also allocated capital to the fund. British Airways and JetBlue are backing companies like ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen, which are developing hydrogen-electric powertrains for commercial aircraft.
United plans to keep raising capital, including from United travelers, who can donate $1, $3.50 or $7.00 to the fund when they purchase tickets online. The airline says if the 152 million passengers who flew on United last year each contributed $3.50 to the fund, it’d be enough to build a refinery capable of producing up to 40 million gallons of sustainable fuel per year.
“The fund is not about offsets or things that are just greenwashing,” said United’s Scott Kirby. “We’re creating a system that drives investment to build a new industry around sustainable aviation fuel, essentially from scratch.” United aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 without relying on carbon offsets.
The Sustainable Flight Fund will invest in startups able to produce fuel to supply United planes. The airline has backed low-carbon fuel companies including Portland-based NEXT Renewable Fuels, which converts recycled organic materials like cooking oil into biofuel that can replace petroleum-based diesel, and New York-based Dimensional Energy, which captures carbon emissions from heavy industries and transforms them into aviation fuel that can be used by airlines with existing infrastructure.