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United Airlines Invests In Battery Maker With Hopes To Further Electrify Ground Operations

SimpleFlying 11/30/2022 Riley Pickett
© Provided by SimpleFlying

On Wednesday, November 30th, United Airlines announced a partnership with battery manufacturer Natron Energy. The partnership will form a joint venture which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of United's ground operations. The companies believe that with Natron's latest advancements in battery technology, the venture will build a safer and more sustainable future.

Electric partnership

The partnership was formed after United made a substantial equity investment into Natron. Over the past few years, the airline has made considerable investments toward reducing its carbon emissions and promoting sustainable transportation. This venture will be its first investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by its ground operations. Natron's premier product is its sodium-ion batteries. These advanced batteries will be implemented into various aspects of the airline's ground operations.

The batteries will be used inside airport terminals as a power source for small electric vehicles. United has chosen to use them because Natron ensures they are safer and more efficient than existing power supplies. On the ramp, the batteries will be used to power several more powerful vehicles, including pushback tugs. The airline has over 12,000 pieces of motorized ground equipment. Over one-third of those pieces are electrically powered.

Natron assures that its products will be implementable in various aspects of ground operations. These include charging electric ground equipment, charging future electric aircraft, and improving equipment resiliency related to inclement weather. All of these operational improvements will contribute to the airline's plans to reduce carbon emissions. The President of United Airlines Ventures, Michael Leskinen, stated the following concerning the battery implementation and carbon emissions reductions,

"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."

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Sodium-ion batteries

The unique sodium-ion batteries offer several unique advantages over other battery designs. Compared to the more popular and dated lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries are made of abundant materials found around the globe, whereas lithium-ion batteries are made of scarce materials. They also have better life cycles and output than lithium batteries. Lastly, they have been proven to be nonflammable, making them notably safer than potentially flammable lithium batteries.

The CEO of Natron Energy, Colin Wessells, shared how the batteries will help improve aviation operations. 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."

Natron intends to use the investment money from United to accelerate production and grow its capacity over the next couple of years at its production facility in Holland, Michigan. The increased production will enable United to roll out the sustainable technology across its vast network.

What do you think of United's investment in Natron Energy? Let us know in the comments below.

  • United Airlines
    IATA/ICAO Code: UA/UAL
    Airline Type: Full Service Carrier
    Hub(s): Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Guam International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport
    Year Founded: 1931
    Alliance: Star Alliance
    CEO: Scott Kirby
    Country: United States
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