United Airlines Ventures invests in battery maker Natron Energy


United Airlines Ventures has invested in Natron Energy, a sodium-ion battery company, to help electrify ground operations. 

This is the first time that the airline has invested in technology to reduce ground support emissions. United believes that it is also the first airline to invest in a battery manufacturer.

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

United operates more than 12,000 pieces of motorized ground equipment. About one third are electric.

The airline believes that Natron batteries could be used to charge ground equipment, air taxis, manage airport engine demand and help during bad weather.

“Natron’s sodium-ion batteries will help the aviation industry achieve its decarbonization and EV goals,” said Colin Wessells, CEO, Natron Energy. “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 says that its batteries are non-flammable. It is also easier to source sodium-ion battery materials, particularly when compared to lithium. It hopes to start mass production from 2023 it its facility in  Holland, Michigan, where it will scale operations to begin mass production of UL-listed sodium-ion batteries in 2023.