Sat. Jun 10th, 2023


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United invests $15M in carbon capture sustainable fuel effort

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United CEO Scott Kirby (L) speaks with Axios' Joann Muller (R) at the What's Next Summit. Photo: Ron Flores for Axios

United Airlines is investing $15 million in a carbon capture startup developing technology that may eventually be used to capture and compress CO2 for use in creating sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the company announced Wednesday.

  • The startup, Svante, plans to use the funds to manufacture carbon capture filters in Vancouver, Canada at commercial scale.

How it works: Svante's filters are designed to capture carbon from industrial sites or the atmosphere. It's then compressed for potential use in SAFs, or to be sequestered underground.

Catch up quick: It's the latest investment from United's Sustainable Flight Fund, a multimillion dollar, cross-industry effort to support SAF startups and R&D efforts.

What they're saying: "Instead of just buying SAF, we're taking the money to invest in companies that are building the industry," United CEO Scott Kirby told Joann Muller at Wednesday's What's Next Summit.

  • "We're giving them the startup capital to go develop the technology and to do the R&D and see what works and what can scale to commercial size and grow the industry."

The big picture: Airlines, aircraft manufacturers and so on are under tremendous pressure to decarbonize.

  • United, for example, aims to go emissions-free by 2050 — without using carbon offsets.
  • SAFs, currently made from used cooking oil and industrial waste, are seen as a short- to medium-term way to reduce aviation emissions.

Yes, but: SAF production needs to increase significantly and quickly in order to have anything more than a negligible impact.

What's next: Efforts to power aircraft with electric power or hydrogen are underway — but still in their early days and facing plenty of headwind.

  • Today's battery technology can't support long-haul flying, Kirby said, while hydrogen requires significantly more volume to provide the same amount of energy as today's jet fuel — hence the company's focus on SAFs.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that United is investing $15 million in Svante, not $5 million as the company first announced.

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