United Airlines pledges to go green by 2050…and it won’t be from buying carbon offsets. Instead, through investments in Direct Air Capture and sustainable aviation fuel, United Airlines pledges to actually make the air cleaner and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 100%.
United Airlines Pledges Investment In Direct Air Capture Technology
United pledges a multimillion-dollar investment in 1PointFive, which plans to develop Direct Air Capture facilities at an industrial-scale around the world. United notes:
Direct Air Capture technology is one of the few proven ways to physically correct for aircraft emissions, and can scale to capture millions and potentially billions of metric tons of CO2 per year. The captured CO2 will then be permanently, safely and securely stored deep underground by Occidental, a process certified by independent third parties.
With this investment, 1PointFive will build its first industrial-sized Direct Air Capture commercial plant in the United States. A single plant is expected to capture and permanently sequester one million tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of the work of 40 million trees, but covering a land area about 3,000 times smaller.
United Airlines Pledges Investment In Sustainable Fuels
Additionally, United pledges additional investment in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). It notes that SAF has become increasingly “cost-competitive” and notes since 2016 United has flown:
- 26 million passengers on flights powered with a SAF blend
- 44 billion passenger-miles on flights powered with a SAF blend
- 215,000 flights powered with a SAF blend
United became the first airline to replace jet fuel with plant-based fuel on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2019. It now plans to expand this technology to both short and long haul flights.
> Read More: United Airlines Operates “Flight For The Planet”
Why Here, Why Now?
During this unprecedented period of low-demand fueled by the pandemic, why is United pouring millions into this new project? In an extended letter to customers, CEO Scott Kirby laid out the objectives:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world in many ways…Still, this crisis will end. That’s why we’re keeping our focus on another crisis that will force all of us to change our behavior in far more dramatic ways than the pandemic ever did: the crisis of a changing climate.
“The longer we wait, the more drastic those changes will have to be. So we have to start making them now. And rather than pay lip service to the problem, United is taking advantage of this moment to lead our industry toward real solutions and lasting change.
“As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognize our responsibility in contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it. These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change – because buying carbon offsets alone is just not enough.
“Perhaps most importantly, we’re not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal; we’re doing it to drive the positive change our entire industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same.”
United’s new goal is ambitious and frankly sounds extremely productive and a better alternative than a carbon tax. Before I offer further commentary, however, I will be spending some time researching Direct Air Capture technology. If you are familiar with it, please leave a comment below.
Are you surprised by United’s pledge to become carbon neutral over the next 30 years? Will United Airlines’ Direct Air Capture and sustainable jet fuel program help to achieve net zero emissions (and potentially net negative emissions), thus making a long term difference?