Largest vacuum opens to remove 'climate pollution' from air

Climeworks, a Swiss company, recently opened the world's largest direct air capture (DAC) plant in HellisheiĆ°i, Iceland. The plant, named Mammoth, began operating on May 8 and is the second commercial DAC plant opened by Climeworks in Iceland. Mammoth is 10 times larger than its predecessor, Orca, which started running in 2021.

DAC technology is designed to suck in air and remove carbon using chemicals, which can then be injected deep underground, reused, or transformed into solid products. Climeworks plans to transport the captured carbon underground where it will be naturally transformed into stone, locking up the carbon permanently. The plant is powered by Iceland's clean geothermal energy.

Despite the potential benefits of DAC technology in removing carbon from the atmosphere, it is still controversial. Critics argue that DAC is expensive, energy-intensive, and unproven at scale. Some also worry that focusing on carbon removal technologies could distract from efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Mammoth's modular design allows for easy expansion, with space for 72 "collector containers" that capture carbon from the air. At full capacity, Mammoth will be able to capture 36,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equivalent to taking around 7,800 gas-powered cars off the road for a year. Climeworks aims to reduce the cost of carbon removal to $300-$350 a ton by 2030 and $100 a ton by 2050.

While Mammoth represents an important step in the fight against climate change, experts caution that it is just a fraction of what is needed to meet global climate goals. Other companies are also developing larger DAC plants, with some potentially using captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery, raising concerns about prolonging fossil fuel production.

Climeworks has ambitious plans to scale up its carbon removal operations, aiming to remove 1 million tons of carbon annually by 2030 and 1 billion tons by 2050. The company's future plans include potential DAC plants in Kenya and the United States.


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