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United Airlines announces new investment in battery-maker Natron Energy

CHICAGO – United Airlines revealed this week a strategic equity investment in Natron Energy, a battery producer whose sodium-ion batteries may enable United to electrify its airport ground operations at the gate and pushback tractors. Natron is the first company that has the ability to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint from United’s ground operations, despite the fact that United has made significant investments in businesses developing technology to cut aeroplane emissions.

“United Airlines Ventures was created to identify companies spearheading the next generation of innovative and emissions-reducing technology,” said Michael Leskinen, President of United Airline Ventures. “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.”

Across all of its operations, United has more than 12,000 pieces of motorised ground equipment, with around a third of those being electric at the present.

The sodium-ion batteries have a number of qualities that set them apart from other battery technologies. These batteries not only outperform their lithium counterparts in terms of output and cycle life, but independent testing has also revealed that they are nonflammable, an important safety feature given the high consumption and power that would be needed for some procedures. In contrast to lithium, which is in low supply and whose demand is projected to triple by 2025, the minerals used in sodium-ion batteries are readily available and abundant throughout the world.

The money will be used by Natron to speed up production at its Holland, Michigan, manufacturing site, where it will scale back operations and start producing sodium-ion batteries in large quantities in 2023.