: United to fund sustainable aviation fuel made from trash but portion of its total fuel use remains small

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United Airlines will partner with Nike, Siemens and others to create an ‘Eco-Skies Alliance’ to finance the use of about 3.4 million gallons this year of low-carbon aviation fuel created from trash.

It is a small portion of the 4.3 billion gallons of jet fuel used by United

in 2019 before COVID-19 sharply crimped flight travel.

Still, the company points out, the pledged amount triples the roughly 1 million gallons of sustainable fuel United has used each year since 2016.

United’s partners include companies with corporate travel or cargo deals with the carrier, including NikeNKE, PalantirPLTR, SiemensXE:SIE and Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.TAK

The initial report from United did not detail the cost of the plan nor how much of the funding incentives would be shouldered by “Eco-Skies” partners.

The plan is meant to piggyback on programs that allow customers to buy carbon offsets to counter their travel carbon footprints. Additionally, United is giving customers the ability to contribute funds for further sustainable-fuel purchases or for use on initiatives United believes will help decarbonize aviation — the first of any U.S. airline to bring in customer involvement in this fashion, it says.

United CEO Scott Kirby told reporters he hopes the alliance will create more of a market for sustainable aviation fuels.

Sustainable fuel use has been promoted since 2008 as part of efforts to reduce emissions at carriers. To date, this fuel accounts for less than 1% of the fuel used worldwide, industry groups have reported. Air travel accounts for 2%-3% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to airline industry data.

American Airlines Group

and other carriers have made their own commitments toward sustainable fuel use.

Read: American Airlines stock falls after first-quarter loss, revenue update


founder Bill Gates is among those drawing attention to sustainable-fuel use, and to himself, as a billionaire with a large carbon footprint from travel. In 2020 he started using sustainable jet fuel and “will fully offset my family’s aviation emissions in 2021,” he said as part of a recent book launch.

Read: Can Bill Gates — ‘another rich guy with an opinion’ — move the needle on climate change?

United and several of its peers have said they aim to cut emissions by 100% by 2050. United announced a recent investment in carbon-capture technology. It has invested in a sustainable aviation fuel producer called Fulcrum BioEnergy.

Airline association IATA has said that emissions from sustainable fuel can be at least 80% lower over a lifecycle than traditional fuel. Migration to this type of fuel will be important, the trade group says, because electrification of jets, especially for longer distances, remains daunting.

United said the projected emissions reduction from sustainable fuel will eliminate approximately 31,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or enough to fly passengers over 220 million miles.

Commentary: How can I return to air travel and still be environmentally conscious?

“We know there is a growing demand from a wide range of our customers including corporations, cargo shippers and individuals who share the same concern we do — that climate change is the most pressing issue of our generation,” Kirby said.

United said earlier this week it expects first-quarter revenue of $3.2 billion, down 66% from the first-quarter of 2019. That compares with the company’s previous guidance of revenue to fall 65% to 70% from 2019, and with the FactSet consensus of $3.35 billion. 

Shares of United are up 27% in the year to date. The U.S. Global Jets ETF

has climbed 20.0% and the S&P 500

 has gained 8.4% comparably.

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