United Airlines announces investment in NEXT biofuel refinery
United Airlines is investing in NEXT Renewable Fuels, the company announced Tuesday, Nov. 15.
United Airlines Ventures, a corporate venture fund started by United Airlines in 2021, "could invest as much as $37.5 million into NEXT, as long as the company meets certain milestone targets," the airline announced.
NEXT Renewable Fuels plans to construct a biofuel refinery at Port Westward and eventually produce up to 50,000 barrels of fuel per day. The company said its project represents an investment of $1.5 billion.
United is the first airline to invest in NEXT, and NEXT is the first biorefinery the venture fund has invested in — though the fifth "Sustainable Aviation Fuel"-related investment the fund has made.
"Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don't have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently," Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, stated in a press release. "But NEXT's strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built."
NEXT is in the permitting process for its planned facility. More applications are still pending, but the company has received some crucial approvals, like an air emissions permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, a wetland mitigation plan permit from the Department of State Lands, endorsements from labor unions and land-use permits from Columbia County — though an appeals court overturned part of the land-use approval last month, as some neighbors and environmental groups fight against NEXT's proposal.
NEXT signed an agreement to have BP supply its feedstock, which would include "used cooking oils, animal fats and tallows, greases, and virgin seed oils from its global feedstock aggregation and sourcing network," according to a press release from when the agreement was announced in 2019.
The agreement with BP is "further de-risking supply issues smaller facilities have historically experienced," the United press release stated.
When NEXT received pre-lease approval from the Port of Columbia County in 2019, the company said the facility would be operational by 2021. The company now expects to begin fuel production in 2026.
"Once all the necessary approvals and permits are obtained and the biorefinery is operational, it has the potential to be used as a platform to scale (Sustainable Aviation Fuels) and deploy additional future technologies," United officials stated.
"The clean fuels industry is taking off and our access to feedstocks, multi-modal distribution, and major industry players positions us to be a leading SAF supplier on the West Coast," Christopher Efird, NEXT chief executive officer, stated in the press release. "United's investment in NEXT strengthens our resolve to be one of the clean fuels leaders in the transportation sector."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.