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United Airlines Plans Electrifying Ground Ops With Investment in Battery Maker Natron Energy

United Airlines has made an equity investment in battery manufacturer Natron Energy. The carrier believes that Natron’s sodium-ion batteries have the potential to help them electrify their ground support equipment (GSE) such as pushback tenders and other vehicles.

United Airlines Invests in Battery Maker Natron Energy With Eye Toward Further Electrifying Ground Operations - Courtesy United Airlines

On Wednesday (November 30, 2022), United Airlines announced that they have made a strategic equity investment in battery manufacturer Natron Energy through their wholly-owned subsidiary United Airlines Ventures (UAV). The airline believes that Natron’s sodium-ion batteries have the potential to help electrify their ground support equipment (GSE) such as pushback tenders and other operations at the gate. While United has previously invested in technologies to reduce aircraft emissions, this is their first investment which has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ground operations.

In Wednesday’s announcement, United Airlines’ Ventures President, Michael Leskinen, 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.”

Also commenting on United’s investment, Natron Energy’s CEO, Colin Wessells, said,

“Natron’s sodium-ion batteries will help the aviation industry achieve its decarbonization and EV goals. Our batteries provide the high power over short distances that ground service equipment needs, and unlike lithium-ion, Natron's batteries are completely nonflammable and can be safely deployed into ground service operations.”

United Airlines currently has a fleet of over 12,000 pieces of GSE, of which about one third are electric. The airline believes that Natron’s batteries could serve a number of applications such as charging electric ground equipment, charging future electric aircraft such as air taxis, allowing airport operations to manage electricity demand, and to improve resiliency during inclement weather. Natron’s sodium-ion batteries have features that distinguish them from existing lithium batteries including better output and lifecycle. The batteries have also been independently tested to show that they are nonflammable. Additionally, the minerals used in sodium-ion batteries are easily sourced and abundant worldwide. Natron plans on using the funds invested by UAV to accelerate production at their Holland, Michigan facility, where mass production of UL-listed sodium-ion batteries will begin at scale in 2023.

United Airlines’ shared purpose is “Connecting People. Uniting the World.” In 2019, United and United Express® carriers operated over 1.7 million flights carrying over 162 million guests. United Airlines operates the most comprehensive network among North American carriers with mainland U.S. hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Shares in the company’s parent, United Airlines Holdings, Inc., are publicly traded on the NASDAQ under the symbol ‘UAL.’

Source: United Airlines/PRNewswire


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