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United Airlines sets target to triple sustainable fuels use in 2023

The airline announces plans to use sustainable fuels for flights from both San Francisco and Heathrow Airports.

A jet's shadow over a field.

Image via Shutterstock/Scharfsinn

U.S. aviation giant United Airlines has announced it intends to triple its use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) in 2023 by using low carbon fuels for departing flights from San Francisco International Airport and London Heathrow.

United has estimated the move could put the airline on track to use around 10 million gallons of SAF in 2023, nearly three times more than it used last year and close to 10 times more than in 2019.

Lauren Riley, chief sustainability officer at the company, said it was also ramping up investment in a range of innovative new SAFs. "While 10 million gallons of SAF in 2023 represents a fraction of what we need, we have also made big investments in producers that are using everything from ethanol to algae, to CO2, to help increase our available future supply," she said.

"We believe these investments, along with our continued collaboration with policymakers, cross-industry businesses and other airlines, will help us scale this brand-new industry to achieve comparable success to solar and wind."

To date, United said that it has invested in the future production of more than 5 billion gallons of SAF, putting it on track to become the largest single user of low carbon fuels. It added that this year it expects to fly more miles on SAFs than any other airline.

United has used SAF blends at Los Angeles International Airport since 2016 and last year rolled out the fuel for use at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Advocates of SAF maintain that it can cut emissions by 80% on a lifecycle basis when compared with conventional jet fuel.

SAF deliveries began at San Francisco Airport in April and are expected to be extended to Heathrow later this year, which will mark the first time United has participated in London Heathrow's SAF incentive program.

The SAF used on United's flights will be paid for in part through the company's Eco-Skies Alliance, which has been designed to allow participating companies to work together to share the "green premium" associated with the adoption of lower emission fuels.

United said that participating in its Eco-Skies Alliance provides corporate customers with the opportunity to improve the transparency of their carbon accounting and enable true, certified SAF emissions reductions from their flights.

The Eco-Skies Alliance program was first launched in April 2021 and has collectively contributed towards the purchase of nearly 15 million gallons of SAF.

Advocates of SAF maintain that it can cut emissions by 80 percent on a lifecycle basis when compared with conventional jet fuel. As such, United said the SAF purchased through the Eco-Skies Alliance should reduce emissions by around 150,000 metric tons.

The SAF which United is using has been provided by Neste and is produced from sustainably sourced and renewable waste as well as residue raw materials, including used cooking oil and animal fat waste, United said.

SAFs are increasingly popular as a means of cutting aviation emissions, but critics have questioned the scale of the emissions savings delivered by the fuel and the ability of the nascent sector to drive down costs and secure sufficient sustainable feedstocks to meet future demand.

However, United stressed that in the future it planned to source SAF from a range of feedstocks, including household waste, forest waste, algae or other forms of compressed CO2 that could be produced at scale with minimal impacts on land use.

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