We are heading straight at top speed towards the greatest climatic disaster as global warming has become a reality. And removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is one of the quickest ways to slow down the rate of warming. In effect, the fossil fuel economy has to go into reverse gear. Climeworks Orca, a direct air capture plant, plans to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby reducing it.
The simplest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere is to plant trees. But that requires time, land, and intervention on a vast scale, three things in short supply as the planet hurls towards a crisis.
A handful of companies have come into the picture that has been trying to directly capture carbon from the air, including Climeworks Orca. The ‘direct air capture (DAC) machines are giant CO2-sucking devices.
The largest DAC plant has gone full steam ahead this month in Iceland. The plant will be operated by Climeworks, an engineering startup based in Switzerland. Climeworks Orca, the company that has the backing of Microsoft, and started operations 20 miles from the capital city of Reykjavík.
Climeworks Orca Plant To Remove Emission Of 870 Cars Annually
The plant will annually draw a volume of emissions that are equal to about 870 vehicles. Orca will increase the total DAC capacity by 50% over the existing dozen plants in Europe and North America.
The Climeworks Orca plants comprise 8 boxes as big as shipping containers. Each box is fitted with a dozen fans that suck in high volumes of air. The CO2 gets filtered and separated, added to water, and pumped deep underground into wells that turn into stone in a few years. This ensures that the captured carbon never again enters the atmosphere.
The plant has a total capacity to remove 4,000 tonnes (4409.25 tons) of CO2. The carbon will remain trapped underground for centuries.
Climeworks Orca has patented the exact process. But the proprietary process is part of the existing technology of capturing carbon through DAC. This geoengineering process has attracted some controversy for its actual practicality and ability.
DAC technology is supposed to slow down climate change by drawing in greenhouse gases, especially CO2 directly out of the atmosphere. But while some environmentalists see in it a possible savior of the planet, others have termed it scientifically unproven and an uncertain distraction from other proven emission control technologies.
The technology perfected by Climeworks Orca is relatively new and relies on existing technologies for carbon capture. It includes CSS (carbon capture and sequestration), which directly removes CO2 at sources such as power plants.
But It May Have Negative Consequences
But critics say that such technologies merely justify prolonging the life span of facilities that run on fossil fuels. The carbon is then transferred to existing oil wells to facilitate better output. But the actual performance of such plants has not been proven, and the know-how is seen as a failure. Over 263 CSS plants have been studied and most have been declared as failures.
Environmentalists have criticized Climeworks Orca for the same reason. Ryan Hanna from the Center for Energy Research, San Diego, says that the technology hasn’t been convincing about its ability to remove carbon dioxide from the air. He said that the technology needs to be more open.
The use of energy is another point of dispute. DAC projects generally run on electricity. But critics point out that such plants finally add more CO2 to the atmosphere than it removes. Researcher June Sekera says that this technology could only be effective if it runs on sustainable sources of energy like wind turbines or solar panels.
Climeworks Orca will run on geothermal power sourced from a plant nearby. Though the source of energy is renewable, it does produce emissions.
We need to remove up to 1000 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2100 to avoid a disastrous climate change. And environmentalists remain skeptical of the capability of DAC plants such as Climeworks Orca.