Skip to main content

Push to limit emissions via carbon removal could cost airlines, travelers

Aug 11, 2023


Media Landscape

See who else is reporting on this story and which side of the political spectrum they lean. To read other sources, click on the plus signs below.

Learn more about this data

Left 33%

Center 61%

Right 6%

Bias Distribution Powered by Ground News

In an effort to combat climate change, the U.S. government has launched an initiative aimed at catalyzing the burgeoning carbon removal industry. The Energy Department has recently unveiled a 1.2 billion plan that will attempt to establish a market for removing carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere, with an initial focus on constructing the first two commercial-scale direct air capture hubs in the nation.

It has been billed by the department as the “world’s largest investment in engineered carbon removal in history.” These two hubs — with one set to be built in Louisiana and the other in Texas — are anticipated to create nearly 5,000 new jobs while simultaneously removing CO2 emissions equivalent to those produced by around 500,000 gas-powered vehicles annually once operational.

“If we deploy this at scale, this technology can help us make serious headway toward our net-zero emissions goals while we are still focused on deploying more clean energy at the same time,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said. “Cutting back on our carbon emissions alone won’t reverse the growing impacts of climate change; we also need to remove the CO2 that we’ve already put in the atmosphere.”

Though the project would be the first to attempt carbon capture at such a large scale, climate scientists view the continued development of carbon removal infrastructure as a pivotal factor in achieving the global warming targets set under the Paris Agreement.

“I believe it is more than likely we will hit 1.5C by the end of the decade. It’s false thinking, that the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] is saying we can manage [to stay below that level] with reducing emissions,” said David King, a former chief scientific adviser within the U.K. government. “The carbon we have put up [in the atmosphere] will have to be removed. It may cost a fortune, but we have to recognise that the alternative is to lose our civilisation.”

The commercial viability of these direct air capture hubs is gaining traction, with experts projecting a potential market value of 1 trillion by the 2030s.

While this government-backed endeavor could result in significant financial gains for commercial carbon capture operations, the same push to limit emissions also has the potential to cost the aviation industry trillions.

As airlines face the prospect of decarbonization, the financial implications loom large, with estimates predicting about 5 trillion of capital investment may be needed. To achieve the industry’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, significant investments must be directed towards sustainable fuel production, a pivot away from the 100 billion gallons of conventional jet kerosene the industry burns annually.

While cleaner biofuels present an environmentally-friendly alternative, they come at a cost — being at least twice as expensive as traditional jet fuel.

“I do not think this is affordable or sustainable, given the size of the industry and its projected growth,” said Volodymyr Bilotkach, associate professor in aviation management at Purdue University and author of The Economics of Airlines.

The transition to cleaner biofuels could result in increased travel fares, fewer available routes and potentially fewer airlines in operation. To mitigate the economic impact, some government relief has been provided through subsidies on biofuels under the Inflation Reduction Act, a move welcomed by airline executives.

However, this federal assistance is not projected to stave off the higher costs of sustainable fuel production from leading to increased charges for travelers. The International Council on Clean Transportation has projected that financing the decarbonization of the aviation industry may necessitate up to a 22% increase in ticket prices by 2050.

Tags: , , , , , , ,