United Airlines Wants To Make Jet Fuel From Thin Air

Today, United Airlines Ventures (UAV), along with Oxy Low Carbon Ventures (OLCV), announced a collaboration with Cemvita Factory. The purpose of this collaboration is to commercialize the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) through a new process using carbon dioxide (CO2) and synthetic microbes.

Fuel from thin air?

Before diving into how fuel can be made from ‘thin air’, let’s have a look at a brief summary of SAF. Sustainable aviation fuel is based on renewable hydrocarbon sources, which include cooking oil, municipal waste, and biomass. The key here is that these sources are sustainable, easily replenished and not from fossil fuels.

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Standard jet fuel is kerosene-based but has high levels of carbon emissions. Standard jet fuel is very harmful to the planet, and because of this, airlines around the world are committing to using SAF in the future. On October 4, 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) approved a resolution for the global air transport industry to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


United Boeing 777 landing at GRU

In 2018, United became the first US airline to commit to reducing its GHG emissions, by 50% by 2050. This goal has since been superseded by the airline’s 100% green net zero commitment. Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

How can fuel be made from thin air? According to Cemvita Factory, it”uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels, including sustainable aviation fuel. Cemvita is among the first to employ this technology to support heavy industry decarbonization and, find ways to use microbiology to turn carbon dioxide into fuel.”


“Cemvita Factory is delighted to team up with United and Oxy for this exciting development. We commend United Airlines for being a leader in the airline industry’s decarbonization efforts and are proud to work once again with OLCV to provide these solutions on a broader scale.” – Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita.

Why is SAF so important to United?

United Airlines has invested more into SAF than any other airline.

“At United, we have been consistent in leading the airline industry with bold action when it comes to fighting climate change – that starts with building an ecosystem around companies like Cemvita Factory to create and commercialize new SAF technologies. This is truly a global imperative, and this cooperation with Oxy Low Carbon Ventures reflects our dedication to building relationships across sectors and working with companies aligned with our sustainability goals.” – Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures

Cemvita Factory is a Houston-based biotech firm, in which UAV also announced an equity investment. Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, which made today’s announcement in collaboration with United Airlines Ventures, is a subsidiary of Occidental (Oxy), which is a founding investor in Cemvita Factory.


United Express Embraer 175 landing on runway 24R at LAX

In 2016, United became the first airline globally to use SAF in regular operations on a continuous basis with SAF from World Energy. Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

Cemvita is the third SAF-related technology in which UAV has made an investment. United has a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, which is why UAV was created in 2021. United’s biggest SAF milestones include, but are not limited to,

  • In 2016, United became the first airline globally to use SAF in regular operations on a continuous basis with SAF from World Energy.
  • In July 2021, Air Transport World magazine named United its Eco-Airline of the Year for the third time.
  • In July 2021, United announced that along with Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Mesa Airlines, it invested in electric aircraft startup Heart Aerospace. Heart Aerospace is developing the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that has the potential to fly customers with zero emissions when powered by renewable electricity.
  • In December 2021, United became the first in aviation history to fly an aircraft full of passengers using 100% sustainable aviation fuel.


United Airlines has long cemented its place as the leading airline with a ‘green commitment’ and continues to show its commitment with announcements like today.


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