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United Airlines & partners create $100 million SAF investment fund

22 February 2023

United Airlines has joined with other companies to create the United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund—a $100 million investment fund to support research and production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The partner companies include Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase, and Honeywell.

Sustainable aviation fuels are defined as renewable or waste-derived aviation fuels that meet sustainability criteria set by the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Most commonly, SAF fuels are biofuels made from such feedstocks as vegetable oils, animal fats, or waste cooking oil. SAF must be used as part of a blend with conventional jet fuel to meet current regulatory requirements.

The fund will invest in SAF technology and production startups. “This fund is unique. It’s not about offsets or things that are just greenwashing,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “Instead, we’re creating a system that drives investment to build a new industry around sustainable aviation fuel, essentially from scratch.”

SAF used by United has up to 85% lower lifecycle GHG emissions than regular jet fuel, according to the company. Currently, SAF accounts for only 0.1% of the overall fuel used by United Airlines.

SAF comes with challenges and the SAF resource base is not adequate to replace the current supply of petroleum jet fuel. SAF costs about three times as much as traditional jet fuel and there is plenty of competition for the feedstocks used to make SAF from ethanol makers and others.

A study by the ICCT that looked into the SAF resource base from the European perspective found that the available plant and animal based oil, fat, and grease feedstocks would allow to displace about 2% of the EU jet fuel demand with SAF by 2030 [5060]. Moving beyond 2% of SAF deployment would require additional fuel conversion pathways such as lignocellulosic fuels and electrofuels—the latter a form of electric energy, rather than biomass. When these novel technologies were included, the EU SAF resource base could still only support 5.5% of the projected EU jet fuel demand in 2030.

Source: United Airlines | San Francisco Business Times