FedEx Investing $2 Billion in Electrification, Greener Jet Fuel, Carbon Capture, and More

The company is committing to carbon-neutral operations by 2040.

Chicago's O'Hare Airport Hosts Air Industry's World Route Forum
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When I talked to Dan Rutherford from the International Council on Clean Transportation about the relative merits of flying less, flying more efficiently, and flying on different fuels, he argued strongly that we’d need to be pursuing all three strategies if we have any hope of bringing aviation emissions under control. Not long after my conversation with Rutherford, FedEx announced that it would be investing heavily in developing sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), as part of a broader mix of measures designed to achieve "carbon neutrality" by 2040.

Fortunately, given the huge challenges ahead for scaling up SAFs, FedEx – which operates the world’s largest cargo airline – isn’t putting all of its eggs in that particular basket. The initiative, which will total $2 billion worth of investments, also includes a raft of other measures including:

  • A commitment to reaching a 100% zero-emission electric vehicle fleet by 2040, with interim goals including 50% of FedEx Express’s delivery vehicle purchases being electric by 2025.
  • Development of collaborative, sustainable shipping and packaging solutions for customers.
  • Expansion of the company’s Fuel Sense initiatives, which are designed to reduce fuel consumption in its aircraft, and which the company claims have saved a combined 1.43 billion gallons of jet fuel since 2012
  • Continued investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other energy management programs across its various facilities worldwide.

These are positive steps, and expansion of the company’s fleet electrification efforts could have a significant impact on commercial fleets more broadly.

Investing in Research

In keeping with similar announcements from other companies, however, it is clear that "carbon neutrality" is not actually being zero carbon. It is more about reducing emissions and offsetting the rest with carbon capture. (Remember: Net-zero is not zero, even if it’s not always nothing.) In a notable indication that FedEx sees its business model including carbon emissions for a significant time to come, the company is giving $100 million to Yale University in order to fund research into natural carbon capture and storage. Given many environmentalists' skepticism about planting trees as offsets, it’s interesting to see this investment go specifically to research – which might finally help answer some of the thorny questions around natural processes and if they really can be used to mitigate some of the harder-to-abate areas of societal decarbonization.

Specifically, the new Center for Natural Carbon Capture at Yale will look at three areas of study including:

  • Reforestation and other biological methods.
  • Mineral weathering and other geological methods.
  • Engineered processes that mimic natural carbon storage.

There are no doubt huge potential pitfalls in reliance on as yet unproven carbon capture technology. Our own Lloyd Alter has argued that "the promise of it alone impedes progress." And yet the speed at which the climate crisis is progressing, compared with the (lack of) speed at which society is decarbonizing, might suggest that further research is warranted.

Given that FedEx is also continuing and expanding its electrification and other emissions-saving efforts, the investment in Yale should be viewed as one part of a broader strategy that does include significant efforts at cutting CO2 at the source.

That said, it sure would be neat to see a global shipping giant like FedEx start to look at innovative ways to reduce the need for shipping in the first place.