The world’s largest plant to capture carbon from the air and turn it into stone is open in Iceland

Uli Hakur Myrdal / Climworks

The Climeworks Mammoth plant in Hellisheiði, Iceland, began operations on May 8.



CNN

“The world’s largest factory” designed for Absorbs pollution resulting from heating the planet It emerged from the atmosphere like a giant vacuum and began working in Iceland on Wednesday.

“Mammoth” is the second commercial Direct air capture Swiss company Climeworks has opened the factory in the country, which is ten times larger than its predecessor Orca, which became operational in 2021.

Direct air capture, or DAC, is a technology designed to capture air and remove carbon using chemicals. The carbon can then be injected deep underground, reused or converted into solid products.

Climeworks plans to transport the carbon underground where it will be naturally converted into stone, permanently locking up the carbon. It is partnering with the Icelandic company Carbfix in what is called the insulation process.

The entire operation will be powered by Iceland’s abundant clean geothermal energy.

Next-generation climate solutions, such as DAC, are gaining more attention from governments and private industry as humans continue to burn fossil fuels. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere It reached a record level In 2023.

As the planet continues To heat — With the destroyer Consequences for humans And nature Many scientists say the world needs to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere in addition to rapidly reducing fossil fuels.

But carbon removal technologies like DAC are still controversial. They have been criticized as expensive, power-hungry, and not widely proven. Some climate advocates also worry that it could distract from fossil fuel reduction policies.

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Speaking about carbon capture in general, Lily Fore, director of the Fossil Economy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, said the technology is “fraught with environmental uncertainties and risks.”

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Mammoth’s modular design allows the units to be stacked and moved around the plant.

Uli Hakur Myrdal / Climworks

Climeworks’ mammoth plant will eventually be able to capture 36,000 tons of carbon from the air.

Climeworks began building Mammoth in June 2022, and the company says it is the largest factory of its kind in the world. It has a modular design with a footprint of 72 inchesCollector containers” – Void Parts of the machine capture carbon from the air, which can be stacked on top of each other and moved around easily. There are currently 12 in progress, with more scheduled to be added over the next few months.

The mammoth will be able to pull 36 thousand tons of carbon from the atmosphere At full capacity, according to Climeworks. This is equivalent to taking about 7,800 gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year.

Climeworks did not give a specific cost per ton of carbon removed, but said it was closer to $1,000 per ton than $100 per ton — the latter widely seen as a key threshold for making the technology affordable and viable.

As it increases the size of its plants and reduces costs, the goal is to reach $300 to $350 per ton by 2030 before hitting $100 per ton around 2050, said Jan Wurtzbacher, co-founder and co-CEO of Climeworks. Call with reporters.

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Stuart Hazeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said the new plant was “an important step in the fight against climate change”. The amount of equipment needed to capture carbon pollution will increase.

But he warned that this was still a small part of what was needed.

All the world’s carbon removal equipment is only capable of removing about 0.01 million metric tons of carbon per year, a far cry from 70 million tons The year 2030 is needed to achieve global climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency.

There are already much larger DAC factories that other companies are working on. For example, the Stratos, currently under construction in Texas, is designed for removal 500 thousand tons of carbon annuallyAccording to Occidental Oil Company, which is behind the plant.

But there may be a catch. Occidental says the captured carbon will be stored in rocks deep underground, but its website also notes that The company’s use of captured carbon In a process called “enhanced oil recovery”. This involves pushing carbon into wells to flush out hard-to-reach oil residue, allowing fossil fuel companies to extract more from old oil fields.

It’s this kind of process that makes some critics worry that decarbonization technologies could be used to prolong fossil fuel production.

But for Climeworks, which is not tied to fossil fuel companies, the technology has huge potential, and the company says it has big ambitions.

Mammoth is just the latest stage in Climeworks’ plan to increase decarbonization to 1 million tons per year by 2030 and 1 billion tons by 2050, said Jan Wurzbacher, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO.

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Plans include potential DAC factories in Kenya And the United State.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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