Aeroplane flying over snowy city

United Airlines turns to direct air capture in green drive

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Chicago-based airline has announced that it will invest millions of dollars in a project to use air direct-capture to remove carbon from the air, as part of its plan to go “green” by 2050.

Under United Airlines’ plans, the first industrial-sized direct air capture plant will be established in the US. It will be based in the Permian Basin in Texas. The facility will permanently capture one million tones of carbon dioxide every year: the equivalent of 40 million trees, while covering a land area 3,000 times smaller.

United added that the technology is one of a handful of proven ways to mitigate aircraft emissions. Direct air capture involves stripping carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere – rather than from a source such as a power plant – for use or sequestration.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby acknowledged that carbon offsetting is not sufficient for cancelling out emissions from the aviation industry: “It may feel good in the short term but the math just doesn’t come close to adding up. The only way we can truly make a dent in the levels of atmospheric carbon is through direct air capture and sequestration.”

He added that this is the only scalable technology for removing carbon from the atmosphere and burying it: “Sequestration is a real and permanent solution”.

The project will offset almost 10 per cent of annual carbon emissions from United Airlines flights. United is also investing in sustainable fuels which could reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared with conventional jet fuel.

The project, 1PointFive, will be led by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures (a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp) and Rusheen Capital Management. The value invested in their project by United Airlines has not been disclosed, but is in the “millions of dollars”.

The aviation industry has largely focused on carbon offsetting as a means of reducing the environmental impact of flying, although there is growing interest in developing increasingly low-emission jet fuels and zero-emission electric and hydrogen aircraft.

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