United Airways depends on CO2 elimination expertise to offset emissions

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

Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

United Airlines is turning to technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground to fully offset carbon emissions by 2050. This is a change from the compensation programs that the aviation industry and others have traditionally relied on to reduce their footprint.

The Chicago-based airline announced Thursday that it is making a multi-million dollar investment in a carbon capture joint venture between subsidiary Occidental Petroleum and private equity firm Rusheen Capital Management. The company is developing a carbon capture facility in the Permian Basin in Texas.

While the coronavirus pandemic has decimated air travel around the world, airlines typically cause around 2% of global carbon emissions. Carriers have used biofuels and carbon offsets bought in exchange for forest conservation and other projects.

“It may feel good in the short term, but the math just doesn’t nearly add up,” said Scott Kirby, United’s CEO, speaking to reporters on Wednesday about carbon offsetting. “The only way to really reduce atmospheric carbon is by capturing and binding air directly.”

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