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United Airlines unveils bid to fund sustainable aviation fuel use

Tue 13th April, 2021 2:00pm
By Tracy Rucinski and Ankit Ajmera
    April 13 (Reuters) - United Airlines  UAL.O  said on Tuesday
it has partnered with global firms including Nike and Siemens in
an 'Eco-Skies Alliance' to finance use this year of about 3.4
million gallons of low-carbon, sustainable aviation fuel derived
from trash.
    Though tiny compared with the 4.3 billion gallons of jet
fuel that United consumed in 2019 prior to the start of the
COVID-19 pandemic, the amount triples the roughly 1 million
gallons of sustainable fuel it has used each year since 2016.
    Airlines have used sustainable fuel since 2008 as part of
efforts to reduce outright emissions, but so far this represents
barely 1% of the fuel used 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 gives customers a way to help reduce the environmental
impact of flying beyond buying carbon offsets.
    Air transport accounts for 2%-3% of greenhouse gas
emissions, the French aerospace association said on Tuesday.
Environmental groups argue the sector's overall contribution is
higher.
    United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said part of the aim 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  NKE.N , Palantir  PLTR.N , Siemens
 SIEGn.DE  and Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co  4502.T . 
    The airline 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 halving net emissions by 2050 versus 2005.
    Environmental critics say offsets do not directly address
climate goals and mask the problem of ongoing jet emissions.
    United, which along with some other carriers has said it
wants to cut net emissions more aggressively by 100% by 2050,
has criticized offsets and announced a recent investment in
'carbon-capture' technology. It has invested in a sustainable
aviation fuel producer called Fulcrum BioEnergy.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL1N2IQ1P9
    "While we know that aircraft are never going to be
completely decarbonized, we are not going to use offsets as the
way to get to 100% green," Kirby said.
    Airline association IATA says lifecycle greenhouse emissions
from sustainable fuel can be at least 80% lower than normal fuel
and are the only medium-term option for curbing emissions
growth, since airlines cannot yet switch to electric planes.
    While using waste avoids taking land from food production,
environmental groups like Transport & Environment say such
supplies are limited and face competition from other sectors. 

 (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Ankit Ajmera in
Bengaluru; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Tim Hepher and Steve
Orlofsky)
 ((Ankit.Ajmera@thomsonreuters.com;))
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