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Swiss startup opens world's largest air pollution removal plant: 'These facilities can be done at a commercial scale'

The entire plant will run on geothermal energy.

The entire plant will run on geothermal energy.

Photo Credit: iStock

Swiss startup Climeworks just opened the world's largest carbon-capture plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland, the Washington Post reported.

The plant, appropriately called Mammoth, beat the record set by another Climeworks plant called Orca. Mammoth will remove 36,000 metric tons (almost 40,000 tons) of planet-overheating carbon dioxide — the equivalent of taking about 8,600 gas-powered cars off the road — from the air every year.

That amount is "a drop in the bucket, but it's a much bigger drop in the bucket than any we've seen so far," Klaus Lackner, the head of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, told the Post.

The Mammoth plant will use fans to pull the air through a series of filters and remove carbon dioxide. Another company, Carbfix, will then mix that carbon dioxide with water and pump it underground, where it will react with basalt rock and turn into stone, as the Post explained

This process is one of many that fit into the broad category of "carbon capture" — which is intended to help cool our planet by removing heat-trapping air pollution and storing it somewhere indefinitely. 

Transitioning away from dirty fuels like gas, oil, and coal is still the most important step to create cleaner, healthier air, but experts believe carbon capture is a vital complementary tool

The entire Mammoth plant will run on geothermal energy, meaning it will not produce any new air pollution during the process, per the Post.

"We need to show that these facilities can be done at a commercial scale so we can see that they work, that they're [socially] accepted, that you can get financing for it," Rudy Kahsar, manager of carbon dioxide removal at the clean energy think tank RMI, told the news outlet. "[Mammoth] paves the way for other facilities to come behind it."

That already seems to be happening, as multiple major carbon capture facilities are in the works, including another from Climeworks in Louisiana, which is meant to capture 1 million tons of carbon annually by 2030. 

Another plant, which is being developed in Texas, will remove about 500,000 metric tons (roughly 551,000 tons) of carbon per year. However, the oil company behind the move has received backlash for appearing to have motivations that are not eco-friendly, according to NPR.  

A number of other promising startups are getting in on the action, including a Minnesota company that provides carbon capture services at a low cost and California-based Equatic, which will test its technology at a multimillion-dollar plant in Singapore.

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