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United Airlines Ventures Is Sustainability-Focused

Tim Gouw

United Airlines has made yet another step toward its goal of achieving net-zero carbon status by 2050. The U.S. airline and its sustainability-focused venture capital arm United Airlines Ventures plan to buy at least 300 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) over the next 20 years.

United made an investment and signed a commercial agreement with Dimensional Energy that uses a novel technology to repurpose fossil fuels and convert them into SAF. Using an old process, the technology converts carbon dioxide and water into usable ingredients.  The Fischer-Tropsch process is a century-old method that makes fuels from coal or methane.

Photo Courtesy Chris Leipelt

“Sometimes you have to look to the past to solve new problems, and we recognize that decarbonizing air travel is going to require combining proven technologies, such as Fischer-Tropsch, with the latest advances in science and engineering,” said Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures.

“As we grow our portfolio of companies like Dimensional, we are creating opportunities to scale these early-stage technologies and achieve United’s commitment of carbon neutrality by 2050, without the use of traditional carbon offsets.”

United so far has been the largest buyer of SAF of any airline in the world, based on publicly available information.

The airline has already signed a series of SAF fuel purchase contracts. In May, it agreed with Neste to buy more than 50 million gallons of SAF to fuel United flights out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. In March, it invested in a synthetic biology company Cemvita Factory to fund an R&D project using bioengineered microbes for the creation of SAF.

Last year, United was also the first airline in aviation history to fly a passenger aircraft using 100% of SAF in one engine.

The airline also made SAF purchase agreements or related investments with Alder Fuels and Fulcrum BioEnergy. Together with Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Mesa Airlines, United also helped fund an electric aircraft startup, Heart Aerospace.

Dimensional Energy’s technology provides several advantages. It can run on all forms of renewable energy. For example, the company uses electricity from the state’s grid at its Arizona plant, which increasingly sources it from solar panels. Dimensional could use wind, hydro, and concentrated solar power on its future sites. The technology can also convert carbon dioxide from different sources, such as industrial emissions, via direct air capture or biological processes.

Photo Courtesy Y S

Dimensional was founded in the State of New York in 2016 and has been refining its reactors and catalysts in the lab and real-world examples ever since. It’s received several rounds of funding and grants for developing its technology and its plant in Arizona. Operations there should begin in July.

“Dimensional Energy is acutely focused on energy solutions that center communities who have been marginalized in the past century as infrastructure and energy systems were developed,” said Dimensional Energy Co-founder and CEO Jason Salfi. “We envision a world run on truly conflict-free energy that can scale to meet the global demand for hydrocarbon fuels and feedstocks. United’s support of sustainable aviation fuel made from captured emissions is an important step in the aviation industry’s pursuit of carbon neutrality.”

The company believes its sustainable fuels will meet and beat the price of fossil fuels over the next decade. It has outlined a progressive schedule of development and production. Next year, it plans to generate two barrels per day from the use of industrial emissions of a major cement manufacturer.

By 2026, its goal is to generate 100 barrels per day from a new commercial plant by capturing carbon dioxide and transforming it into SAF and diesel. By 2029, Dimensional plans to generate more than 1,000 barrels a day to be able to fuel global air travel.

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