United and United Airlines Ventures (UAV) has announced an investment in and commercial agreement with Dimensional Energy, another step forward to reach United’s 100% green net zero commitment by 2050, without the use of traditional carbon offsets. Dimensional Energy’s novel technology removes the need for fossil fuels, converting carbon dioxide and water into usable ingredients for the Fischer-Tropsch process – a nearly 100-year-old proven technology used to produce fuels from coal or methane. While facilities around the world continue to use Fischer-Tropsch to produce fossil fuels, Dimensional will be one of the first to use it to produce sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
Under the commercial agreement, United has agreed to purchase at least 300 million gallons of SAF over 20 years from Dimensional. This agreement further cements United’s status as an airline industry leader in sustainability. United’s SAF agreements represent the largest volume of SAF of any airline over the next 20 years, based on publicly announced agreements.
“Sometimes you have to look to the past to solve new problems, and we recognise that decarbonising air travel is going to require combining proven technologies, such as Fischer-Tropsch, with the latest advances in science and engineering,” said Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures. “As we grow our portfolio of companies like Dimensional, we are creating opportunities to scale these early-stage technologies and achieve United’s commitment carbon neutrality by 2050, without the use of traditional carbon offsets.”
Dimensional Energy was founded in Ithaca, New York, in 2016 and has spent the last six years refining its reactors and catalysts in both lab and real-world demonstrations. The company’s early success led to its status as a finalist in the first Carbon Xprize, and in September 2021, global climate technology nonprofit investor Elemental Excelerator funded Dimensional as part of its 10th cohort, which led to the company’s introduction to United. Dimensional has also received grants from the National Science Foundation and both the Department of Energy’s ARPA-e and Solar Energy Technology Office (SETO). The company began construction on a carbon dioxide to fuels demo in Tucson, Arizona in 2021. Commissioning of the facility has already begun, and it is set to begin operation this July.
“I am continually impressed by the team at Dimensional Energy as we scale our advanced carbon dioxide to fuels technology. On top of delivering clear environmental impact, our business model includes delivering durable benefit to local communities through creative partnerships. We envision a world run on conflict-free energy. United’s support of sustainable aviation fuel made from captured emissions is an important step in the aviation industry’s pursuit of carbon neutrality,” said Dimensional Energy Co-founder and CEO Jason Salfi.
Dimensional’s technology can run on all forms of renewable energy. At the Tucson site, they are using electricity from the Arizona grid, which gets an increasing amount of power from local solar panels. Future plants are slated to use hydro-power, wind-power and rapidly maturing concentrated solar, which utilises heat from direct sunlight.
Dimensional can also utilise carbon dioxide from a variety of sources, be it straight from industrial sites (like cement plants), from Direct Air Capture (a technology that can capture CO2 from anywhere in the world), and biological processes like fermentation and biomass gasification.
The announcement marks UAV’s fourth SAF-related technology investment, but its first the pathway of power-to-liquids: which creates SAF synthetically without the constraints of feedstock growth that is prevalent in other biofuel pathways. Launched in 2021, UAV targets startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 – without relying on traditional carbon offsets. Over the last decade, United has built a first-of-its-kind sustainability-focused ventures fund. UAV’s portfolio now includes SAF producers and other technologies including carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft, and urban air mobility.