Startup lands $23M to upcycle CO2 into plane fuel

OXCCU raised the Series A from investors including United Airlines, one of many airlines investing in sustainable aviation fuel” as pressure to curb emissions mounts.
By Maria Gallucci

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A silver plane flies in the sky against a backdrop of a light blue sky and fluffy white clouds
(John McArthur/Unsplash)

Airplanes generate copious amounts of carbon dioxide emissions every time they fly. A startup in Oxford, England is working to turn that CO2 back into jet fuel, potentially creating a cleaner way to power the highly polluting, hard-to-decarbonize aviation sector.

On Tuesday, OXCCU said it raised nearly $23 million in Series A financing to take its technology out of the laboratory and into a demonstration plant. Venture capital firm Clean Energy Ventures led the round, which included participation from the venture arms of Saudi Aramco, Eni and United Airlines. The Chicago-based airline launched a $100 million fund in March to support startups developing alternative jet fuels.

People are desperate for this — they want to be able to fly without climate impacts,” Andrew Symes, CEO of OXCCU, told Canary Media. (The company’s name is pronounced Ox-C.C.U.”)

Globally, aviation accounts for about 2.4 percent of annual CO2 emissions, though flying may be responsible for 4 percent of overall global warming when other factors are included.

Facing mounting pressure from regulators, environmental groups and passengers, major airlines are increasingly investing in sustainable aviation fuel” to begin displacing the petroleum-based kerosene that dominates the skies. Companies are also developing hydrogen-powered jets and electric planes, though the technologies are expected to power mainly short-haul and regional flights.

Nearly all of the world’s so-called SAF comes from animal fats and used cooking oil — which remain in extremely limited supply and are fueling concerns of unintended knock-on climate hazards. OXCCU is among the growing number of companies that are pursuing alternatives to burger grease and french-fry oil. Another such firm, New York–based Air Company, recently inked a $65 million deal with the U.S. Department of Defense to capture CO2 on military bases and turn it into jet fuel.

Sustainable aviation fuel is the best tool we have to decarbonize air travel, but we continue to face a significant supply shortage,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures, said in a Tuesday press release. He said that OXCCU’s technology has the potential to resolve our supply chain problem by using CO2 as a feedstock to produce fuel.” 

Four people stand inside an airport hangar with a small white plane behind them.
OXCCU's leadership team stands inside a hangar at London Oxford Airport. From left to right: Tiancun Xiao, founder, CTO and managing director; Naomi Wise, interim CFO; Andrew Symes, founder and CEO; and Jane Jin, founder and COO. (OXCCU)

OXCCU spun out of the University of Oxford’s Chemistry Department in 2021, shortly after scientists reported early results of their organic combustion method.” Fuel production happens in a stainless steel reactor. In a single-step process, engineers use an iron-based catalyst and apply heat — around 350 degrees Celsius, or 662 degrees Fahrenheit — to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen into a usable liquid. Burning the fuel in jet engines will still emit CO2, but ideally, the company’s process will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than planes produce.

Symes declined to say how much fuel OXCCU expects to produce at its demonstration plant but noted that the facility will be key to proving that our catalysts work at scale for long periods of time.” The plant is now under construction at the private London Oxford Airport and is slated to be up and running next year. Soon after that, the company plans to build a second, larger demonstration plant before launching its first commercial facility in the coming years.

Currently, the company gets its supplies of CO2 and hydrogen from conventional sources. Eventually, in order to reduce the life-cycle emissions associated with making the jet fuel, OXCCU intends to source green” hydrogen made from renewable electricity and water, as opposed to fossil gas production, which is how most hydrogen is sourced today. Carbon dioxide could come from the flue gases of steel mills and ethanol plants, or be scrubbed from the sky using direct air capture.

All I will say is that we have a path to get there,” Symes said. We know that ultimately, in order for this to be relevant [for the climate], we’re going to have to do this at very large scales.”

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.