United Airlines invests in carbon-capture project to be 100% green by 2050

JFK Airport file — cropped
Airplanes on the runway of Kennedy Airport, as a boater passes by on the waters of Head Of Bay in Queens, on Aug. 13, 2012.
Photo by Uli Seit

By Tracy Rucinski, Reuters

United Airlines said on Thursday it had committed to a multimillion-dollar investment in a project to remove carbon dioxide from the air through air direct-capture technology as part of a plan to be 100% “green” by 2050.

The project, 1PointFive, is a partnership between Occidental Petroleum Corp subsidiary Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Rusheen Capital Management that plans to build the first U.S. industrial-sized direct air capture plant that would permanently sequester 1 million tons of CO2 each year.

That’s the equivalent of what 40 million trees can do, but covering a land area about 3,000 times smaller, United said, adding that direct-capture technology is one of the few proven ways to correct for aircraft emissions.

United declined to provide further details on the investment amount.

Speaking to reporters about the project, United CEO Scott Kirby said carbon capture and sequestration is the only scalable technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere and buries it in the ground.

“Sequestration is a real and permanent solution,” Kirby said.

Until now, the airline industry has focused primarily on the purchase of carbon offsets to reduce the environmental impact of flying.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global air travel earlier this year, carbon reduction was expected to be a top priority for airlines, particularly in Europe, where a flight-shaming movement has gained momentum.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced airlines to focus heavily on their daily survival rather than on longer-term environmental goals, Kirby said climate change could alter behaviors in even more dramatic ways than the pandemic.

“The longer we wait, the more drastic those changes will have to be,” he said.

Aside from the carbon-capture program, United is also investing in sustainable aviation fuel, which has up to 80% less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel.

Most of an airline’s contribution to climate change comes from the fuel it takes to fly.