Three Delta planes parked in the foreground with one taking off in the background on a runway at LAX.
Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Delta moves to clean up its contrails

Protocol Climate

Why hello, Protocol Climate friends. We’re happy to have you on this fine October Thursday. Today we’re looking at a partnership to kill contrails and an EU law to kill the Lightning cable. (Don’t worry, your Apple Watch charger is safe.) Plus, a look at all the latest VC investments in climate. Join us, won’t you?

Delta tries to solve the contrail problem

Contrails are sneaky bad for the climate, according to numerous lines of research. Now Delta is poised to actually do something to reduce contrails’ warming influence. The company has partnered with MIT to test if a few tweaks could decrease persistent contrails and cut the climate some slack. And Delta is open-sourcing the results so other airlines can follow its lead.

Delta and MIT have already run about 40 test flights to get to the bottom of a persistent problem. Contrails’ wispy look belie the fact that they have a potent warming effect by trapping outgoing radiation. There are a number of factors that can affect contrail formation, which the airline and scientists have been working to suss out.

  • Using satellites and machine learning, researchers from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have been working to determine the regions and altitudes at which contrails form.
  • They’re also working on a system for feeding that information to Delta’s pilots so they can route planes to avoid them.
  • Steven Barrett, the lab’s director, said they’ve looked at “very targeted” flights in which pilots flew through regions where contrails are likely to form and changed altitudes to verify that the satellite estimates were accurate.

The partnership is expanding — and it could lead to real change. Barrett said they’re developing a larger-scale trial to gain “real statistical confidence” that the system works and pilots are able to successfully avoid creating contrails. In addition, the team is working on measuring and validating how much additional fuel the flight changes will burn.

  • To avoid contrail formation, pilots will need to course-correct. Estimates indicate that the tweaks would only use up to 2% more fuel, which would make the changes worth it for both the bottom line and the climate.
  • Eventually, the team hopes that satellite data will be used to adjust flight paths in real time and to forecast resulting fuel burn changes so that flight teams can be prepared.
  • “If our hypotheses really prove to be true, we could almost immediately avoid any of the climate impacts of the persistent contrails,” Pam Fletcher, Delta’s chief sustainability officer, told Protocol.
  • She added that the airline is “very interested in” implementing changes if the results prove sound.

Reducing contrails would provide almost immediate climate benefits. Contrails — and their warming impact — dissipate within a few hours. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, stays in the atmosphere for centuries. Cutting contrails could reduce aviation’s climate impact by as much as 59%. That’s a huge deal for an industry whose path to decarbonization still has many other hurdles. And obviously it’s a pretty big win for the climate, too.

Read the full story here.

— Michelle Ma

USB-C rules the EU

Pour one out for the Lightning cable.

The European Parliament voted in favor of new charging standards that will require all phones, tablets, and cameras sold in the European Union to be USB-C-ready by 2024. The mandate will extend to laptops in 2026. And it’s sneaky good for the climate and environment writ large. (It’s a very sneaky newsletter today!)

The rule would help clean up e-waste. Sure, fewer cords tangled up in your junk drawer is a win on its own. But the European Parliament has bigger goals. Showoffs.

  • By making USB-C the law of the land, the rule will ensure that all future devices require just one type of charger. That means you won’t need to chuck out your Lightning cable if you switch from an iPhone to a Galaxy.
  • The Global E-Waste Monitor put out by the United Nations showed that nearly 54 million tons of e-waste piled up in 2020, a number that could rise to almost 75 million tons by the end of this decade.
  • The new EU rule is projected to avoid 11,000 tons of e-waste annually. So it’s a baby step, but it’s better than no steps.
  • An estimated 68% of electronic devices’ carbon emissions are tied to the manufacturing process, so less stuff produced should equal fewer emissions.

Apple, in particular, is in for a big change. The company’s iPad and various MacBooks rely on USB-C charging. But Apple has held steadfastly to the Lightning port for the iPhone. (The rule will also send the micro-USB packing, too.)

  • The iPhone was the bestselling phone in the EU last year, with Apple capturing 34% of the smartphone market. It’ll have to swap out that port in 2024’s version of the phone or say au revoir to the European market.
  • The company is reportedly considering going USB-C for next year’s iPhone, so the change may be sooner than expected.

That also means if you’re a Lightning stan (which, no judgment), now’s the time to grab an iPhone 14 and stock up on Lightning cables. Because a whole new world of charging is coming, assuming the European Council signs off on the rule as expected.

— Brian Kahn


It's becoming increasingly appreciated among the broader business and NGO community that the planet and people elements of sustainability are mutually dependent, and as such a focus on one at the exclusion of the other will be fruitless. But balancing profit and sustainability progress remains a more thorny debate.

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Make it rain

Long-duration energy storage company Form Energy raised $450 million in its series E funding round, led by TPG Rise Climate. The startup, which is developing unconventional iron-air battery technology, has become a climate finance darling.

Indian EV maker Euler Motorsraised $60 million in its series C funding, with plans to use the cash to improve its manufacturing and supply chain. The investment firm GIC Singapore led the round.

EV charging company Loopannounced that it raised $60 million: $40 million via a series A round led by Fifth Wall and $20 million via a line of financing.

LineVision, which provides utilities with overhead monitoring and analytics tech, raised $33 million in its series C financing round, co-led by Climate Innovation Capital and S2G Ventures.

The renewables investment arm of Brookfield has committed $500 million to the carbon recycling company LanzaTech to fund upcoming projects in Europe and North America. The companies told Reuters that the capital commitment could eventually increase to up to $1 billion.

Hot links

Once you go electric, you’re not likely to go back. That’s the takeaway from an analysis of vehicle registration data, which found that most EV owners don’t return to gas-powered cars when it comes time for a new vehicle.

Renewable energy and conservation goals can coexist. Solar and wind require a lot of land, but a new analysis shows how to squeeze more renewables onto less land in the West.

Child and forced labor are at the base of the lithium ion battery supply chain, according to an update from the Department of Labor. That's especially true for batteries made with cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as solar panels made with polysilicon manufactured in China's Xinjiang province.

Seaweed could yet conquer cow burps. Yeah, yeah the promise of feeding cows seaweed to reduce methane in their belches has been billed as a climate solution for years. But Aussie seaweed startup SeaStock has made its first commercial harvest and it has “a lot of hungry customers.”


Currently, much of the ‘E’ in ESG is focussed on climate only, and it is essential that companies also focus on biodiversity, recognizing nature-climate linkages in order to optimize mitigation and build resilience. ESG will prepare us for the necessary paradigm shift, driven by increasing external pressures forced upon us as a result of short-term profits.

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