No Offsets Pledge
United has pledged a net zero goal of reducing our GHG emissions by 100% by 2050 without relying on the use of traditional carbon offsets.
United is committed to achieving our climate targets without the use of traditional, nature-based or voluntary carbon offsets that derive their environmental attributes through avoided emissions or reductions that are both difficult to quantify and easily reversible. We believe that combining in-sector emissions reductions and carbon removals technologies is the credible path forward to address future aviation sector emissions.
Innovative Approaches to Financing Our Transition to Low Carbon Flying
Given the two to four times ‘green premium’ associated with purchasing SAF when compared to conventional jet fuel, United implemented several strategic initiatives to help establish a robust SAF market. From engagement with corporate fliers today, through the Eco-Skies Alliance initiative, to establishing an investment vehicle via United Airlines Ventures, United is taking action to accelerate SAF supply.
The Eco-Skies Alliance, launched in 2021, is United’s innovative program wherein corporate passenger and cargo customers work together to finance the ‘green premium’ of SAF. To date, nearly 40 program participants representing multiple industries are allocated Scope 3 emissions reductions for flying on United in exchange for funding the premium for SAF. Collectively, the program demonstrates a strong market signal that industries beyond aviation demand sustainable air travel. At the end of 2022, customers of the Eco-Skies Alliance had committed to fund approximately 9 million gallons of SAF, which is the same amount of emissions from flying our passengers approximately 600 million miles.
In collaboration with our corporate customers, United flew the first passenger flight using 100% SAF in one engine in December 2021. The historic flight departed from Chicago to Washington D.C. with Eco-Skies Alliance participants and government partners on board, demonstrating the safety and performance of SAF.
United Airlines Ventures
United has a long history of investing to support the technologies that can decarbonize air travel. In 2015, we invested $30 million – the largest SAF investment by an airline at the time – in Fulcrum BioEnergy, a startup working to commercialize the production of SAF from household trash. In 2021, United created a formal investment vehicle by launching United Airlines Ventures (UAV), a corporate venture capital arm that seeks promising sustainable aviation technologies and innovation to usher in the future of air travel. As of March 2023, UAV is the only airline venture capital fund launched to specifically target technologies and startups that complement a transition to net zero aviation.
To scale the production of SAF, UAV has invested in several producers, feedstock developers, and development projects. Most recently, United announced a $5 million investment in carbon capture technology company, Svante, to potentially unlock CO2 as a feedstock for SAF. This comes after the company’s investment in Viridos, a developer of SAF feedstock via genetically engineered algae. Earlier in 2023, United formed a joint venture, Blue Blade Energy ("Blue Blade"), with Tallgrass Energy and Green Plains Inc. to commercialize SAF technology using ethanol as the feedstock. If the technology is successful, United has entered into an offtake agreement with Blue Blade to receive up to 135 million gallons of SAF annually for up to 2.7 billion gallons in total—our largest offtake agreement. In 2022, UAV invested in NEXT Renewables, a company which—at full production—could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of renewable fuels, including SAF. UAV also previously invested in Cemvita Factory, a biotech company seeking to commercialize the production of SAF through a revolutionary new process using CO2 and synthetic microbes, and Dimensional Energy, a company whose technology converts CO2 and water into usable ingredients for the Fischer-Tropsch process.
In late 2022, UAV invested in Natron Energy, a battery manufacturer whose sodium-ion batteries have potential to further enable our ground operations’ electrification. UAV also has investments in alternate propulsion, with Heart Aerospace, a company developing 30-seat electric aircraft, and ZeroAvia, a company manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell engines to retrofit on regional aircraft.
Sustainable Flight Fund
In February of 2023, United Airlines launched the Sustainable Flight Fund, a first-of-its-kind investment vehicle focused specifically on SAF technologies. Starting with more than $100 million in dedicated capital, with launch partners—Air Canada, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, GE Aviation, and Honeywell—to support and invest in startups working on SAF research and development, production, and technology. Through the Fund, the anchor partners and potentially additional corporate participants will invest alongside United in SAF technology and production startups identified by UAV.
The purpose of the Sustainable Flight Fund is to accelerate SAF supply through collective capital. This fund targets technologies that solve for key pain points in current SAF production, and with that unlock access to future SAF production—often times at a scale much larger than volumes that can be purchased through current day production technologies.
As another feature of the Sustainable Flight Fund’s launch, United provided its customers the opportunity to get involved and directly contribute $1.00 to $7.00 to supplement United’s investment in the Fund when booking travel on the website and app. This initiative bolsters the demand signal for SAF, while allowing our customers to have a direct role in helping us achieve our sustainability goals. Notably, within the first ten days of the program launch, over 4,200 customers had elected to contribute.