It’s the first airline in the world to invest in Direct Air Capture technology.
United Airlines says it will meet its goal of reducing 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
“We recognize the role we play as an airline in contributing to climate change and therefore our responsibility in solving it,” the company said in a statement. “[W]e want to lead our industry toward real solutions and lasting change.”
According to CEO, Scott Kirby, United is making sustainability the “new standard” in flight.
“I realize it’s an ambitious vision for someone in an industry that depends on burning fossil fuels to operate,” he said. “As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognize our responsibility in contributing to climate change as well as our responsibility to solve it. It’s no longer enough to for us to connect the world without making sure it has a future.”
United says it’s looking beyond carbon offsets to tackle its fuel emissions.
“We believe carbon offsets simply don’t go far enough to address the emissions caused by our operations.”
Instead, United is poised to venture into sustainable fuel made from renewables and waste byproducts. It’s been exploring sustainable fule options for more than a decade. These can include vegetable oils, ethanol and methanol, biodiesel, and carbon dioxide or biomass. Sustainable fuels produce up to 80 percent fewer emissions than conventional jet fuel. Since 2016, United has led the airline industry in Sustainable Aviation Fuel usage. it committed $40 billion to the tech last year. To date it’s flown more than 44 billion passenger miles on SAF.
United also made the largest investment by an airline into sustainable fuel. It invested more than $300 million into the California-based sustainable fuel company Fulcrum BioEnergy.
Direct Air Capture
The airline is now also exploring Direct Air Capture — a sort of man-made photosynthesis that mimics how trees capture carbon dioxide. This form of carbon capture and sequestration is touted by leading climate scientists as a necessary component to mitigating climate change. It works by using giant fans to pull CO2 out of the air. The carbon dioxide molecules are then “trapped” in a non-toxic liquid that can be reused or buried. United is investing in 1PointFive, which is working on Direct Air Capture.
“I believe the world and the airline industry has to be bolder,” Kirby said.
With the United investment, 1PointFive will build the first of its kind Direct Air Capture plant in the U.S., capable of removing more than one million tons of CO2 per year. According to the company, that’s the equivalent work of 40 million trees. But it does it in a land area 3,000 times smaller than needed for that many trees.
“These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change,” Kirby said. “United Airlines is the only airline investing in these technologies. And 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.”