The company behind the nascent green technology said construction is set to start on Wednesday on what may become the largest plant in the world to capture carbon dioxide from the air and deposit it underground.
According to Swiss startup Climeworks AG, its second large-scale direct air capture (DAC) plant, with a capacity to remove 36,000 tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere, will be constructed in Iceland in 18 to 24 months.
That is a very small percentage of the global emissions of CO2 connected to energy that totaled 36 billion tonnes in 2017. However, it is a 10-fold increase over Climeworks’ current DAC plant, which is presently the biggest in the world, and a significant step forward for a technology that experts this year declared is “unavoidable” if the world is to fulfill its climate change targets.
Around 80 large fan and filter blocks make up the new “Mammoth” plant, which draws in air and extracts CO2 from it. Icelandic carbon storage company Carbfix then combines the CO2 with water and injects it underground, where a chemical process transforms it into rock. A facility with almost geothermal energy will run the process.
Climeworks plans to construct a much larger facility once this plant starts up that will capture about 500,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. At the end of the decade, additional plants of that scale will be replicated, backed by project funding.
Mammoth received a part of the $627 million investment round that Climeworks announced in April, which was worth 600 million Swiss francs. Additionally, the company sells carbon removal credits that are among the most costly in the world, costing up to 1,000 euros per tonne, to clients including Microsoft, Audi, and Boston Consulting Group.
Quoting Gebald as saying, Reuters writes that it’s the cost of scaling up, adding, “This is, so to say, the investment we have to do as a company to move forward”.
According to the International Energy Agency, there are now 18 direct air capture facilities in operation worldwide. A large-scale DAC project will be built by American oil company Occidental to capture 1 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
In order to keep global warming below 1.5C and prevent more severe climate consequences, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that energy-intensive and expensive technologies like DAC will be required to remove CO2 on a significant scale in the next decades.
In order for DAC to be effective, according to professor and IPCC author Heleen De Coninck of Eindhoven University of Technology, it must be powered by CO2-free energy and should not take the place of urgent greenhouse gas emission reductions.
De Coninck also said, “It can backfire if it leads to avoiding doing what’s necessary right now,” she said.