United Airlines invests millions into algae-based fuel producer Viridos

United Airlines invests millions into algae-based fuel producer Viridos

United Airlines (UAV) has invested US$5million (AU$7.52m) into biofuel company Viridos, as they work towards the using microalgae as a base for new sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

The investment is the first in a recently announced UAV Sustainable Flight FundSM.

United’s US$5million investment will 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.

Viridos specialise in the bioengineering of microalgae and its proprietary technology, accelerating the amount of oil that can produced from microalgae which can then be used to scale future SAF production.

SAF is an alternative to conventional jet fuel that, on a lifecycle basis, reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with air travel compared to conventional jet fuel alone.

To date, United has invested in the future production of over three billion gallons of SAF – the most of any airline in the world.

“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,” president, United Airlines Ventures, Mike Leskinen, said.

“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.”

Viridos has already achieved seven times the oil productivity compared to typical wild-type algae, creating  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.

Viridos’ bioengineering technology combines several important and unique attributes contributing to better scalability and sustainability compared with traditional jet fuel production:

  • Surface area oil productivities of Viridos algae far exceed any traditional oil crop, achieving high algae oil output on comparatively small areas.
  • Viridos algae are grown in vessels containing seawater. This allows contained deployment in hot and dry locations without taxing scarce freshwater and arable land resources, while eliminating runoff.
  • Viridos algae have extremely high oil contents facilitating downstream processing to algae oil.
  • Viridos algae oil is a quality plant oil allowing existing bio-refineries to process the oil with high yield.

“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,” CEO, Viridos, Oliver Fetzer, said.

“We are excited to have the support from United Airlines. Together we can build the ecosystem needed to bring algae biofuels to the market.”

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