- United Airlines said on Tuesday that it had partnered with global companies including Nike and Siemens in an 'Eco-Skies Alliance' to finance the use of around 3.4 million gallons of low-carbon, sustainable aviation fuel derived from trash.
Though limited compared to the 4.3 billion gallons of jet fuel used by United before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the amount triples the roughly 1 million gallons of sustainable fuel it has consumed every year since 2016 each year.
Since 2008, airlines have used sustainable fuel as part of efforts to reduce outright emissions, but this represents so far just 1% of the fuel worldwide, industry groups say.
Chicago-based United did not disclose the cost of the plan, nor how much its 11 partners would contribute. It said the project offers customers a way to help reduce the environmental impact of flying beyond buying carbon offsets.
The air transport accounts for 2% -- 3% of greenhouse gas emissions, the French Aerospace Association said on Tuesday. Environmental groups argue that the overall contribution of the sector is higher.
As Chief Executive of United Energy, Scott Kirby said part of the goal of the alliance was to create more of a market for sustainable aviation fuels.
We 'll see how it develops, he told reporters; I think there's a huge appetite for it. Partners include companies with corporate or cargo deals with United like Nike, Palantir, Siemens and Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.
The industry has focused more broadly on the purchase of carbon offsets to reduce the environmental impact of flying, pending the arrival of new technology to meet the sector's goal of reducing net emissions by 2050 versus 2005.
Environmental critics say offsets do not directly address the climate goals and mask the problem of persistent jet emissions.
United, which has announced that it wants to cut the net emissions more aggressively by 100% by 2050, has criticized offsets and criticized a recent investment in 'carbon-capture' technology.
It has invested in a sustainable aviation fuel producer called Fulcrum BioEnergy. While we know that aircraft are never going to be completely green, we are not going to use offsets as the way to get to 100% decarbonized, said Kirby.
IATA says airline greenhouse emissions from normal fuel can be at least 80% lower than sustainable fuel and are the only medium-term option for curbing emission growth, since airlines can still switch to electric planes.
While using waste cuts land from food production, environmental groups like Transport Environment say such supplies are limited and face competition from other sectors.