United Airlines turns to CO2 removal technology to offset emissions


United Airlines Boeing 767-400 ER Extended Range with 2x CF6-80 engines aircraft landing at Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport AMS EHAM in The Netherlands, the Dutch capital.

Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

United Airlines is turning to technology that aims to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground to help offset its carbon emissions completely by 2050, a change from offset programs the airline industry and others have traditionally leaned on to reduce their footprints.

The Chicago-based airline on Thursday said it is making a multimillion dollar investment in a carbon-capture joint venture of Occidental Petroleum subsidiary and private equity firm Rusheen Capital Management, which are developing a carbon capture plant in the Permian Basin in Texas.

While the coronavirus pandemic has decimated air travel around the world, airlines usually generate around 2% of global carbon emissions. Carriers have used biofuels and carbon offsets, which are purchased in exchange for conserving forests and other projects.

“It may feel good in the short-term but the math just doesn’t come close to adding up,” United’s CEO Scott Kirby said of carbon offsets on a call with reporters Wednesday. “The only way we can truly make a dent in the levels of atmospheric carbon is through direct air capture and sequestration.”

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