World's biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland – operators say the Orca plant can suck 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year
Disclaimer: I work for a company that provides carbon offsets to individuals.
There's a lot of negativity in here about scale, but I think this is a misconception of the use of this technology. The goal is not (and never was) to use these machines to sequester 100% of the current carbon emissions of the planet indefinitely.
The goal is to build these machines to learn about and develop technology that could be useful for sequestering CO2 far in the future. There will always be emissions that we cannot avoid emitting - even once we transition to renewables. When total emissions are much lower, and the tech is cheaper to build and maintain, then these machines will probably have a critical role to play in maintaining consistent greenhouse gas levels across the planet.
I'm happy they're making progress! This is good news.
To put that in perspective:
And a Gt (Gigatonne) is 1,000,000,000 tonnes. So we would need ~7,875,000 of these carbon capture plants in operation to negate the 2020 CO₂ output from energy production alone. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the technology is being developed and deployed, but TBH I am not very optimistic about it actually helping all that much in the grand scheme of things. :(
All of these projects designed around sucking CO2 from the atmosphere feel like an attempt to make fossil fuels "greener" while costing more money than if investing directly into renewables.
I dunno. They don't really compare in terms of scale, so I'd more view them as R&D for when we are zero (or near-zero) fossils but still have e.g. methane emissions that want to be compensated or when we actually want to bring atmospheric CO2 down again. (E: another possible purpose might be compensating the inevitable long tail of small-ish industries that will be hard to defossilate (?). For example, we might need a while until we can reliably produce lubricants without crude oil, but we will probably not need much oil for it.)
Though I reckon the most scalable tech to do that is ocean-bound somehow. Maybe algae farming or something. Taking CO2 out of the oceans will make the oceans absorb more atmospheric CO2. So if you put fertilizer into the open ocean and harvest the resulting algae blooms, maybe that can be a cheap way of acquiring atmospheric carbon. If you do it outside the environment, it might not even have the ecological impacts we usually associate with algae blooms.
I wish I could get excited over this, but that's nothing, it's an absolutely tiny amount of CO2 for such a large amount of engineering, it's a completely worthless contraption that only serves to distract people from the actual causes of these problems. "Greenwashing" is the term, I believe. I think this technology should be researched for the future, but we already have the solutions to the climate crisis in front of us: Less cars, no more fossil fuel power plants, carbon tax the shit out of companies, plant more trees, plants, and other biological carbon sequesters. We're all banking on finding a miracle technology that'll solve everything with no change to our lives. We need to accept that as it is right now, our society is a bubble, and it simply can't go on like this.
The problem is, we don't have the time for gradual change. It would be great if we had the freedom to slowly phase these things out, but that time has long since passed. We need to curb emissions now, and then start picking up the pieces that have already been thrown out of place. Whether that's realistic through democratic action or not is irrelevant, it has to be done, and I think that if politicians won't do it, then radical action of some kind is needed, whether the majority are willing or not. But I'm getting off track here. I get what you mean about this being a gradual thing from "this technology is useless" to "this technology is amazing", I just don't think it's worth celebrating this as if anything's been fixed while it's still in the "basically useless" phase.
Hopefully the idea is to make this cheaper and more scalable. Because you’d have gotten much farther using the money to eliminate existing cars from the road.
Am I the only one who thought: "Um, so why didn't they just name it Orka?"