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American Airlines invests US$100m into Bill Gates’ SAF program

written by Isabella Richards | September 21, 2021
A file image of American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 N314RH. (Nathan Coats/Commons Wikimedia)
An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 (Nathan Coats/Commons Wikimedia)

American Airlines has announced a US$100 million investment into Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to support sustainable aviation fuel development.

The program is set to accelerate “climate-smart” technologies to achieve the US goal of zero emissions by 2050.

Initially, the program will focus on key areas including direct air capture, green hydrogen, long-duration energy storage and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

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It will kickstart the first group of private sector companies to join, and American will stand beside giants from other industries, including Microsoft, General Motors, and Bank of America.

The initiative is a branch from billionaire Gates’ Breakthrough Energy, launched in 2015, which adopts a set of policy advocacy, investments and programs helping humanity avoid “climate disaster”.

The Dallas-based carrier is the only airline to join the collaboration.

Doug Parker, American’s chief executive and chairman, said the investment is a “vote of confidence” in this approach of reaching net-zero emissions.

“We have an ambitious vision of a low-carbon future for our airline and a plan to match, but we know our own efforts can only get us so far,” he said.

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“By working in partnership with Catalyst, we’re helping accelerate and scale our industry’s nascent solutions, like sustainable aviation fuel, along with other technologies that will be necessary to reduce emissions from aviation.”

American Airlines said achieving net zero emissions requires the investment into SAF – which is being heavily considered by many competing airlines globally.

Over the years, there has been an increasing interest in SAF, but the cost has outweighed its growth in the industry.

Gates plans on scaling up the production of SAF, which will inevitably lower the price tag and make it accessible.

This goes hand-in-hand with the White House announcement earlier in September, which saw the Biden administration committing to reduce aviation emissions by 20 per cent by 2030.

The US government is also pledging to rapidly upscale SAF production.

“American’s partnership with Catalyst will augment the airline’s ongoing efforts to advance SAF and bring the market to scale,” said the carrier.

According to the company, the airline has been taking delivery of SAF from Neste – a Finnish oil refinery who has been spearheading biofuel production – for over a year.

American has committed to using 9 million gallons in total through to 2023, and agreed to purchase up to 10 million gallons of SAF from Prometheus Fuels – US energy start-up founded in 2019 – in July.

The carrier has also committed to transforming its fleet through a US$24 billion deal to purchase 600 fuel efficient aircraft and retiring less-efficient ones over the coming years.

“Catalyst will focus on supporting technologies that are vital to the world reaching net-zero emissions but are currently too expensive to be adopted at scale,” Gates said.

He said this will be achieved by “co-ordinating investments” and directing them to technologies that will enhance sustainability.

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