United invests in algae to SAF technology

Photo: petrmalinak/ Shutterstock

US airline United aims to power its fleet with microalgae-derived Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the future following a new investment.

United has invested $5m in algae-based fuel producer Viridos to support the production of SAF made from algae, an abundant and scalable resource that can be grown and harvested without impacting the food supply chain.

This marks the first new investment of its recently announced UAV Sustainable Flight Fund.

United told Air Cargo News that the initiative supports its plan to decarbonise transportation of both passengers and cargo.

Viridos specializes in the bioengineering of microalgae and its technology accelerates the amount of oil that can produced from microalgae. This algae oil could then be used to scale the future production of SAF.

The biofuel company has already achieved seven times the oil productivity compared to typical wild-type algae, said United. This creates an opportunity for potentially scalable and more sustainable production of algae oil, that could later be used to produce SAF.

Based on current estimates, SAF created by Viridos’ algae oil is expected to have a 70% reduced carbon footprint on a lifecycle basis when compared to traditional jet fuel.

To date, United has invested in the future production of over 3bn gallons of SAF.

“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,” said United Airlines Ventures president Mike Leskinen.

“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.”

“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,” said Oliver Fetzer, Viridos chief executive.

The UAV Sustainable Flight Fund is an investment vehicle that is designed to leverage support from cross-industry businesses in order to support start-ups focused on decarbonising air travel through SAF research, technology and production.

The fund is starting with more than $100m in investments from United and inaugural corporate partners Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase and Honeywell.

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]