Air Company, a startup that turns carbon dioxide into perfume, vodka, hand sanitizer and aviation fuel, is now on the U.S. Defense Department’s payroll, so to speak.
The JetBlue and Toyota-backed company struck an up-to $65 million deal to help the Air Force capture CO2 and turn it into “sustainable” aviation fuel on base.
Air Company said the carbon will initially come from industrial fermentation facilities — which is how the startup makes fuel at its “pilot plant” in Brooklyn, New York. But the company also has its hands in direct air capture, which is “part of the technology that Air Company would be building out on site,” a spokesperson for the firm said.
The goal is not for Air Company to supply fuel but to provide the Air Force with tech to make the fuel itself. The company described producing fuel on bases as “harm reduction,” saying it prevents “fuel transportation as a target for explosives.”
“The contract is tiered out over the next several years,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. Air Company aims to work with the Air Force to produce “tens of hundreds of gallons,” and later “tens of thousands of gallons,” of jet fuel. As one astute TechCrunch reader commented below, “tens of hundreds” is also known as “thousands.”
The Department of Defense is a notorious carbon polluter, though it is cagey about how much fuel it burns. Researchers at England’s Lancaster University estimate the DoD emits “more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries.” The same researchers argue that “action on climate change demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine.”
Sustainable aviation fuel can come from lots of things; possible feedstocks include household waste, a variety of crops, and used cooking oil. The source of the fuel, as well as how it’s produced and transported, determines whether it’s actually as sustainable as the name suggests.
Asked about its environmental impact, Air Company told TechCrunch that it exclusively uses renewable electricity to produce its fuel today, which it called “completely carbon neutral when burned.”
This story was updated on March 1, 2023 with additional details on Air Company’s deal.