The World's Largest Carbon Capture Machine Opens In Iceland. Can It Save Us?

October 26, 2021

Last week I shared with you Amazon’s new agroforestry initiative for carbon offsetting by planting cacao trees in Brazil. With the climate crisis becoming increasingly unavoidable (the planet is suffering droughts in some areas while other areas are flooding, more animal and plant species are facing the risk of extinction, food agriculture is being challenged by abnormal climates, and more,) governments and businesses are looking at solutions for slowing the crisis down in hopes of finding a permanent solution. Elon Musk himself offered a $100 million prize to whoever came up with the best “technology for capturing carbon.”

Dusk sky over forest

The Swiss Engineering firm, Climeworks, has recently unveiled a strong contestant that could potentially start working on the excess carbon emissions we already have and are continuing to make. In early September, the company switched on a new Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant in Iceland, the biggest of its kind on the entire globe. DAC technology works by sucking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, pulling it underground, mixing it with water, and converting it into stone. The plant, nicknamed Orca, will annually convert 870 cars worth of carbon emissions.

With the Orca plant now open, DAC technology was boosted by 50% globally from before, with only a few dozen smaller plants operating in Europe and North America. According to the International Energy Agency, 15 DAC plants were operating in 2020, which together capture approximately 9,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. However, there are many other similar projects in motion that will likely be even larger than the Orca plant opening in the U.S. and Scotland by 2025.

Firms are jumping at the opportunities of DAC technology as it is an easy way to invest in carbon offsetting with minimal work. The tech giant Microsoft has already promised to invest in Climeworks, which is in line with the companies goal to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030, which means it will be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces. Although these projects are huge steps forward to mitigate the climate crisis, critics argue that the technology is just too costly compared to protecting and planting forests, which also protects numerous ecosystems.

DAC plants are incredibly costly to operate, and they are, in the end, a business. This means that this technology is being sold as a commodity to brands to offset their emissions. Although 9,000 tonnes seems to be a lot of emissions to remove from the atmosphere when put into perspective, 600 Americans alone produce 15 tonnes of emissions every year. Would it be better for governments to invest in this technology on behalf of the people? There is no doubt that DAC technology is another step forward in the fight against climate change, but there is not just one solution to this problem. If we wish to change, we must look at climate change holistically and keep in mind that plants, animals, the soil, water, and the air we all breath are all being affected.

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Photo: Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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