United Airlines plans to turn microalgae into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) through the first investment of its recently announced UAV Sustainable Flight Fund.
The carrier has invested US$5 million in algae-based fuel producer Viridos, which extracts algae oil from microalgae for the potential future production of SAF. United explains that algae is “an abundant and scalable resource that can be grown and harvested without impacting the food supply chain”.
Based on current estimates, SAF created by Viridos’ algae oil is expected to have a 70 per cent reduced carbon footprint on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel.
Sustainable aviation fuel, which is crafted from cooking oil and agricultural waste, is a greener option for aviation travel but currently must be blended with conventional jet fuel to meet regulatory requirements for use within the aircraft. In the future, it is hoped that SAF will be produced from other feedstocks, including household rubbish, forest waste or algae.
United Airlines Ventures president Mike Leskinen commented:
“SAF is proven, scalable, and the best tool we have to reduce our carbon emissions from flying, but we face a significant shortage of available feedstock. As the global aviation leader in SAF production investment United remains committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions, without relying on traditional carbon offsets, by 2050.
“Viridos’ algae-based biofuel technology has the potential to help solve our supply problem without the need for farmland or other agricultural resources and marks our inaugural investment in our new cross-industry UAV Sustainable Flight Fund.”
Oliver Fetzer, CEO of Viridos, added:
“By establishing production sites to grow Viridos-engineered microalgae in saltwater, we are creating the foundation for a biofuel future that moves away from fossil fuels without competing for precious resources such as fresh water and arable land. We are excited to have the support from United Airlines. Together we can build the ecosystem needed to bring algae biofuels to the market.”
This marks the first investment for the United Airlines Ventures Sustainable Flight Fund, which is being used to invest in start-ups focused on accelerating the research, production and technologies associated with SAF.
The fund has launched with more than US$100 million from inaugural partners Air Canada, JPMorgan Chase, GE Aerospace and Honeywell, and is open to further companies.
For more information on the SAF sector, see our feature in the February 2023 issue of Business Traveller: