The Largest Direct Carbon Capture Facility in the World Has Been Launched

Swiss start-up Climeworks has again led innovation by inaugurating the world’s most extensive carbon capture facility in Iceland, surpassing its previous achievements in CO2 removal from the atmosphere. While the company’s former leading facility, Orca, managed to extract around 4,000 tons of CO2 yearly, this new establishment significantly towers over that, capable of capturing nearly tenfold [source][as reported by The Washington Post].

The plant, named Mammoth, utilizes 72 industrial fans to extract a staggering 36,000 tons of CO2 from the air annually. Similar to Orca, the captured CO2 is not reused but is permanently sequestered underground, trapped within stone formations. Interestingly, Mammoth is situated atop a dormant volcano, providing a cinematic setting that even a James Bond antagonist would find appealing as a secret lair if the facility ever became decommissioned.

Chosen for its close proximity to the Hellisheidi geothermal energy facility, which powers the plant’s fans and heats the chemical filters for CO2 extraction, Mammoth represents cutting-edge environmental engineering. The CO2 extraction process involves combining extracted CO2 with water vapor, compression, and dissolution in water, followed by underground storage in volcanic basalt where it turns into solid crystals, securely storing the CO2.

Despite the innovative milestones, such efforts make up only a fraction of what’s necessary to combat climate change. According to Climeworks founder Jan Wurzbacher, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 demands removing between six to 16 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere yearly, a target far beyond what current technology and efforts can handle [source: CBS News].

This reality underscores the monumental task ahead. The Mammoth facility, while impressive, captures just 0.0006 percent of the minimum CO2 removal required yearly according to Wurzbacher’s estimates. To truly make an impact, a significant scale-up in global carbon capture efforts is essential.

In an appeal for widespread action, Wurzbacher has called on other entities to join the cause, with Climeworks aiming to capture millions of tons of CO2 annually by 2030 and aspiring to hit a billion tons by mid-century. Carlos Haertel, Climeworks’ CTO, mentioned to 60 Minutes that global scaling is feasible but requires strong political support.

In a significant move, the Biden administration has pledged significant financial support towards developing the carbon capture industry within the US, allocating $4 billion in tax credits [source], alongside an additional $1.2 billion for two major projects [source]. Furthermore, the introduction of the Carbon Negative Shot program aims to accelerate the development of cost-efficient carbon capture technologies [source].

Carbon capture techniques are diverse, ranging from limestone blocks that absorb CO2 to innovative methods like giant hot air balloons that capture and freeze the gas [source]. Other strategies, such as reforestation efforts by companies including Apple and Goldman Sachs, also play a vital role [source]. The battle against climate change requires a multi-faceted approach, uniting different methods at a global scale to make a substantial difference.

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