The world’s biggest carbon-removal plant switches on

October 20, 2021
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SHORTLY AFTER 6pm on September 9th, the Orca carbon capture plant, just outside Reykjavik in Iceland, switched on its fans and began sucking carbon dioxide from the air. The sound was subtle—a bit like a gurgling stream. But the plant’s creators hope it will mark a big shift in humanity’s interaction with the climate.

Orca is, for now, the largest installation in the infant “direct air capture” industry, which aims to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. When sealed underground such CO2 counts as “negative emissions”—an essential but underdeveloped method for tackling global warming. To stop temperatures rising by 1.5°C or even 2°C above pre-industrial averages, as per the Paris climate agreement, hundreds or thousands of billions of tonnes of CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere in the second half of the century.

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