United Airlines has said that it has committed to a multi-million-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, which is called 1PointFive, is a partnership between Occidental Petroleum Corp subsidiary Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Rusheen Capital Management that plans to build the first US industrial-sized direct air capture plant that would permanently sequester one million tons of CO2 each year.
That is the equivalent of what 40 million trees can do, but covering a land area approximately 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 details on the investment amount.
Speaking to reporters about the project, United CEO Scott Kirby said that 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 focussed 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 pandemic has forced airlines to focus heavily on daily survival rather than longer-term environmental goals, Kirby said that climate change could alter behaviours in even more dramatic ways than the pandemic.
Investing In Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Aside from the carbon-capture programme, 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. Kirby said that with fewer planes in the skies during the pandemic, emissions are likely down by approximately 55%.
Annual Emissions Will Be Offset By Nearly 10%
The carbon-capture project will offset nearly 10% of United's annual emissions, Kirby said.