American Airlines Steers Towards Zero Emissions via Hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuel Investments

By July 5, 2023 3   min read  (524 words)

July 5, 2023 |

Zero Avia American Airlines

American Airlines and its cargo division are forging a path towards zero-emission operations by 2050 through strategic investments in hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) technologies.

This Texas-based airline’s commitment to future fuels is evident in their investments in two companies pioneering the development of hydrogen. In August 2020, American Airlines made a strategic investment in ZeroAvia, a leading player in hydrogen-electric engine development from the UK and the US. This investment not only provided financial backing but also gave American Airlines an option to procure up to 100 zero-emission engines designed initially for regional aircraft. Shortly after, in October, an equity investment was made in Universal Hydrogen, a California-based company championing hydrogen-powered commercial flight.

Greg Schwendinger, President of American Airlines Cargo, underscores that they believe the journey to zero emissions will necessitate a blend of solutions, not just SAF. By consciously investing in hydrogen startups, the airline aims to diversify its carbon neutrality approach and bolster technologies that could serve as part of the solution.

Despite operating without freighters currently, American Airlines Cargo stands to benefit from any eco-friendly investments made by its passenger counterpart.

While SAF remains a pivotal part of American’s decarbonization strategy, the airline has already sealed contracts with three SAF producers: Neste, Aemetis, and Gevo. They have been partnering with Neste, a renowned Finnish renewable fuels company, since 2017, to utilize their renewable fuels. A recent agreement with Neste will even supply SAF via pipeline to San Francisco International Airport.

From 2024, American Airlines plans to receive 16 million gallons of SAF annually from Aemetis, a renewable fuels and biochemicals company based in California. Moreover, the airline has pledged to procure 500 million gallons of SAF from Gevo, a biofuels and renewable chemicals company headquartered in Colorado, over five years starting in 2026. These commitments are instrumental in American Airlines’ ambitious goal to substitute 10% of its jet fuel usage with SAF by 2030.

Jill Blickstein, Vice President of Sustainability at American Airlines, is steering the company towards achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. By 2030, the aim is to replace around 10% of its jet fuel consumption with SAF and reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 45% and scope two emissions by 40% by 2035.

In parallel to future fuel investments, American Airlines is prioritizing fleet renewal, sustainable ground equipment, facility enhancements, and operational sustainability. American Airlines Cargo has cut down paper use, backed the industry’s eAWB initiative, and partnered with M&G Packaging’s BioNatur Plastics to use reusable and biodegradable polyethylene film for shipments at US airports. This lighter film reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, thus contributing to overall sustainability goals.

While acknowledging the industry’s challenge of ramping up SAF production to reach cost-effectiveness by 2050, American Airlines remains committed to its early identification and deployment of SAF. Schwendinger is optimistic that achieving net-zero emissions is within reach if the entire industry shares this commitment, although it demands considerable investment. He underscores the need to bear the cost of decarbonization initially to fund infrastructure development, which would eventually bring down costs and pave the way for the widespread adoption of sustainable technologies.


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