How America’s First Commercial Carbon Sucking Plant Works

factory emitting smoke

Carbon-sucking facilities are still a somewhat controversial tool for fighting climate change but they’re becoming a reality fast. 

America’s first carbon sucking plant went operational in California and is capable of compensating for about 200 cars per year. California Is the first location to use the controversial technology for fighting climate change, which received $1.2 billion from the Biden administration this August, divided among a few companies.

It’s a meager start but the plant, operated by Heirloom Carbon Technologies, has Bill Gates’ support, having received  funding from both Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.

Also read: Climate Change and Rising Carbon Emissions Made Trees 20% to 30% Bigger Than They Used to Be.

From a  Yahoo report about its carbon-capture efforts:

“The company’s first facility in Tracy, California, which opens Thursday, is fairly small. The plant can absorb a maximum of 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to the exhaust from about 200 cars. But Heirloom hopes to expand quickly. “We want to get to millions of tons per year,” said Shashank Samala, the company’s chief executive. “That means copying and pasting this basic design over and over.”

Heirloom’s technology hinges on a simple bit of chemistry: Limestone, one of the most abundant rocks on the planet, forms when calcium oxide binds with carbon dioxide. In nature, that process takes years. Heirloom speeds it up. At the California plant, workers heat limestone to 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln powered by renewable electricity. Carbon dioxide is released from the limestone and pumped into a storage tank. The leftover calcium oxide, which looks like flour, is then doused with water and spread onto large trays, which are carried by robots onto tower-high racks and exposed to open air. Over three days, the white powder absorbs carbon dioxide and turns into limestone again. Then it’s back to the kiln and the cycle repeats. “That’s the beauty of this, it’s just rocks on trays,” Mr. Samala, who co-founded Heirloom in 2020, said.

The hard part, he added, was years of tweaking variables like particle size, tray spacing and moisture to speed up absorption… In future projects, Heirloom also plans to pump carbon dioxide into underground storage wells, burying it.”

How does carbon-sucking work?

Known as “direct air capture” (DAC) and colloquially as carbon-sucking, this technology basically draws air through a fan and passes it through a filter that traps carbon dioxide particles.

This Guardian-made graphic shows how Climeworks’s DAC facility extracts and stores CO2 and is a very straightforward explanation of carbon-sucking plants. 

how dac works: carbon-sucking explanation for carbon capture

Company Climeworks, who operates more than 15 facilities already, has a storage partner in Iceland, a company called Carbfix, who then stores the captured CO2 underground.

The company says their plants require less land than other techniques and gives the following example on how efficient carbon-sucking can be:

“E.g., on a land area of 0.42 acres, our Orca plant can remove 4,000 tons of CO₂ from the air every year, which is almost 1,000 times more effective than trees. The same land would host around 220 trees with an estimated capacity of 22kg each (source), i.e., only 4.62 tons of CO₂ per year.”

Also read: Are We on the Cusp of an AI-Powered Renewable Energy Revolution?.

Another company, Carbon Engineering, says that “Direct Air Capture with geologic storage has the potential to deliver permanent carbon removal at gigaton-scale.”

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), last year there were more than 19 direct air capture facilities worldwide but their capacity was that of just around 10,000 tonnes.

Also read: As Shell Celebrates Triple Earnings During Oil Crisis, Hackers Leak How Much Money Shell Paid Russia For Gas.

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