United Airlines looks to further electrify its ground operations with Natron Energy
On 30 November, United Airlines announced a strategic equity investment in Natron Energy, making United the first major airline to invest in a battery manufacturer.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen power, and electric aircraft are three of the most prominent methods airlines are looking towards to curb emissions. Although developments in electric aircraft look promising, there are multiple concerns relating to factors including range, weight, and size.
However, United Airlines are turning their attention towards their wider carbon footprint, looking at their ground operations. Currently, the airline has over 12,000 pieces of motorised ground equipment across its operations, a third of which are already electric. Natron Energy’s batteries have the potential to further electrify United’s ground equipment. Unlike the majority of battery technology, Natron Energy’s sodium-ion batteries rely on minerals which can easily be sourced worldwide.
Discussing the investment, Michael Leskinen, President of United Airline Ventures said:
“United Airlines Ventures was created to identify companies spearheading the next generation of innovative and emissions-reducing technology. Out of the gate, we primarily focused on technology designed to help reduce carbon emissions from our airplanes. Natron’s cutting-edge sodium-ion batteries presented an ideal opportunity to both potentially expand our sustainability investment portfolio to our ground operations, and to help make our airport operations more resilient. United is looking forward to future opportunities to work with our airport partners on sustainable technology initiatives.”
Explaining the suitability of their batteries for United’s needs, CEO of Natron Energy, Colin Wessells said:
“Natron’s sodium-ion batteries will help the aviation industry achieve its decarbonization and EV goal. Our batteries provide the high power over short distances that ground service equipment needs, and unlike lithium-ion, Natron’s batteries are completely non-flammable and can be safely deployed into ground service operations.”
In the press release, United listed the following areas that Natron Energy’s batteries could be used to improve the carbon footprint of their ground operations:
- Charging electric ground equipment
- Charging anticipated future electric aircraft such as electric air taxis
- Allowing airport operations to manage electricity demand
- Greatly improving resiliency related to inclement weather
United Airlines set themselves the ambitious goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets. The airline’s strategy revolves are reducing, innovating, removing, and collaboration. This latest investment is an exciting step on their extensive sustainability journey.
To learn more about United’s involvement with innovative sustainable technology read here.
Article by Jess Brownlow