American Airlines will contribute $ 100 million to a new green technology fund led by Bill Gates to stimulate research into technologies that reduce carbon emissions.
Microsoft, Bank of America, Blackrock and General Motors are among the other leading companies that joined the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst fund on Monday. The group’s goal is to provide low-interest loans and other low-cost investments to launch green technology projects.
American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, has joined the rest of the airline industry in setting ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions over the next 30 years, including targets to phase out all of its carbon footprint by 2050. However, there is no clear way of knowing how American or any other airline will get there based on current technology.
“Climate change is an acute and imminent challenge and it certainly is for aviation,” said Jill Blickstein, managing director of American Airlines who leads the company’s environmental efforts. “Other transport sectors have a decarbonization path, but aviation does not. “
The Breakthrough Energy Catalyst fund and the American Airlines investment, in a way, is an admission that current technologies are not a solution to the outstanding environmental problems reported by climatologists.
The booming electric vehicle and truck industry is unsustainable for the aviation sector. American Airlines has agreed to invest up to $ 1 billion in a British manufacturer of short-range experimental aircraft. But airline executives, including US CEO Doug Parker, admitted there was no electric solution to transporting hundreds of people hundreds and thousands of miles like commercial planes do.
“Avoiding a climate catastrophe will require a new industrial revolution,” Gates said in a statement announcing the partnerships. “Half of the technology needed to achieve zero emissions does not yet exist or is too expensive for much of the world.”
But unlike American’s investment in electric planes, there likely won’t be any direct profit for the company.
“I think we recognize and value the fact that this has the potential to impact the entire aviation industry,” said Blickstein.
That’s no small price for American, who has roughly $ 50 billion in debt after taking out some $ 22 billion in loans during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the business afloat.
Among the focus areas of the investment fund, American is most interested in sustainable aviation fuel, an emerging fuel source using recycled waste such as cooking oils to produce jet fuel. In theory, using sustainable aviation fuel reduces carbon emissions by around 80%.
American Airlines has pledged to purchase up to 9 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over the next three years and some of the US planes taking off from San Francisco International Airport are already powered by a mixture of regular jet fuel. and sustainable aviation fuel.
Competing airlines such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, Chicago-based United, and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines have all made commitments to sustainable aviation fuel.
However, the entire sustainable aviation fuel industry produces only about 4.5 million gallons per year, compared to over 90 billion gallons of jet fuel consumed by the global aviation industry.
Sustainable aviation fuel is also three to five times more expensive than conventional jet fuel, so airlines need more production and lower prices.
“We need the SAF market to grow thousands of times over what it is today,” said Blickstein. “There are fuels made from used oil, but the production capacity we need does not yet exist.