Swiss-Icelandic Venture Is First to Sequester Carbon Straight from Air
A plant in Iceland earlier this month inaugurated the dream of pulling humanity’s excessive releases of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere, reversing the process leading to global warming, and perhaps keeping the planet within 2.0 or even 1.5ºC of its pre-industrial average temperature.
Many climate scientists have concluded that abating today’s greenhouse gas emissions will be insufficient in itself to achieve that goal. Which means, the Guardian writes, that “large-scale projects to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere will be needed by the 2030s to hold the line against climate change.” However, most technologies to do that have so far been “costly, controversial, and in the early phase of testing.”
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But now, one such “moonshot” project has achieved at least limited lift-off, Quartz reports. On October 11, Swiss-based Climeworks “inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions,” at a geothermal power plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland.
The pilot-scale facility will capture only 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year—about what a single U.S. household or 10 Indian ones would emit in that time. It was developed with Reykjavik Energy’s CarbFix2 project, which has demonstrated a process for injecting CO2 deep underground, where it reacts with basalt bedrock to be converted into stone, “thus ensuring [emissions] don’t escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years.”
Two other companies are also building pilot demonstrations of technologies they hope will capture CO2 directly from the air at reasonable cost, Quartz reports: Global Thermostat, in the U.S. state of Georgia, and Squamish, B.C.-based Carbon Engineering.
The CEO of Berlin’s Climate Analytics, a science and policy institute, lauded the pursuit of direct-air carbon capture. “If you’re really concerned about coral reefs, biodiversity, [and] food production in very poor regions,” Bill Hare told a London climate change conference, as reported in The Guardian, “we’re going to have to deploy negative emission technology at scale. I don’t think we can have confidence that anything else can do this.”