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Startups Are Working on Sustainable Jet Fuel

September 19, 2023
x min read

Getting to net zero emissions is a big topic, especially for airline companies. As one of the biggest emitters of carbon in the world, the pressure to change is immense.

Now venture capital is getting behind the thing that just might save the future of flying: sustainable jet fuel.

What’s happening:

  • United Airlines recently committed to purchasing a billion gallons of fuel from Cemvita, a Houston based startup who produces sustainable aviation fuel
  • Sustainable aviation fuel is a hot space in venture capital being propelled by major airline companies needing to reduce emissions

How it works:

  • Sustainable aviation fuel can be made from biomass inputs such as agricultural waste, animal fat waste and even algae
  • Certain crops can also be used for sustainable aviation fuel, including corn and soybeans
  • Startups are also working on other innovative approaches to produce sustainable fuel, such as processes to upcycle carbon dioxide

Why it matters:

  • Climate friendly ways to fuel airlines are becoming a requirement, with regulatory and government pressure globally for airline companies to cut down on carbon emissions
  • Sustainable aviation fuel needs to accelerate as it’s currently an extremely small percentage of the fuel being used by airlines, representing well under 1% of total fuel consumed globally

Who’s making moves:

  • United Ventures has a $100M purpose built fund solely for investing in sustainable aviation fuel
  • England based startup OXCCU recently raised a $23M Series A to upcycle CO2 into jet fuel in a round led by Clean Energy Ventures and included notable participants such as Saudi Aramco
  • CleanJoule, a startup working on jet fuel from agriculture waste, raised $50M in a round led by Indigo Partners and saw investment from airline companies Volaris and Frontier Airlines

The intrigue:

  • Finland based oil giant Neste has a partnership with McDonalds in which they source cooking oil waste from their Dutch locations in order to repurpose it into sustainable aviation fuel

The fine print:

  • While sustainable aviation fuel hopefully can be used one day to propel entire commercial flights, currently it is still mixed with traditional fuel
  • There’s only ever been one flight by a commercial airline done with entirely sustainable aviation fuel and that was conducted without any passengers on board

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