United is the first U.S. airline to announce expansion of sustainable aviation fuel use at an international airport.

Image courtesy of Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash

United announced a commitment to mitigate its environmental impact , embracing the goal of becoming 100% green by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 100% by 2050.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a lower-carbon alternative to normal jet fuel that can be used to fuel existing aircraft without making significant modifications to the aircraft and its engines. SAF used by United has up to 85% lower GHG emissions than regular jet fuel when we count all of its emissions, all the way from how it’s made and delivered to the airport, to when the company uses it (these are called ‘lifecycle emissions’).

This does not mean its current use of SAF reduces its carbon footprint by 85%, however. The company says it still has a long way to go to achieve net zero by 2050, as currently only 0.1% of its overall fuel is SAF.

Producing and using SAF can lower the lifecycle emissions compared to regular jet fuel a number of ways, such as by reusing a waste material so the waste doesn’t create more emissions when thrown out, by using a plant-based material that has captured GHGs, or capturing and using some of the CO2 in the air.

United says that using more SAF helps it not only to reach its goal to go net zero by 2050, but also its plan to decrease its carbon intensity by 50% from 2019 to 2035. United is reportedly the first airline to use SAF in regular operations on an ongoing basis, and the first U.S. airline to create a sustainability-focused venture fund to invest, in part, in SAF production.

According to United, if every customer who flew United in 2022 contributed just $3.50, it would be enough money to build and operate at least one SAF production facility in the U.S. SAF is reportedly the most scalable solution to decarbonize air travel.

Today it’s made from things like used cooking oil, household trash, or forest waste. It can produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional jet fuel on a lifecycle basis. While United has invested in the future production of over 3 billion gallons of SAF — the most of any airline in the world — today, SAF production remains limited.

For more information, visit www.united.com.