California is now home to a new weapon in the war against climate change.
On Friday, Heirloom Carbon Technologies officially opened their facility in Tracy. The New York Times reports that the company claims it is the first US commercial plant to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
As it stands now, the plant is capable of sucking 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year, which is roughly equal to the exhaust released from 200 cars, the Times reported.
That means current operations are relatively small, but the company has plans to expand. Shashank Samuela, a Times reporter, said that the company wants to reach millions of tonnes per year through building factories similar to this.
Grabbing carbon like a sponge
The company does this by “using limestone like a sponge.” The facility processes limestone, removing the carbon dioxide from it, which turns it into a fine white powder, called calcium oxide.
Water is then added to the calcium oxide, and the resulting mixture is spread out on metal trays exposed to the open air, where it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns back into limestone, per the Times.
The facility can use the calcium oxide it produced in the past to restart the process, “like repeatedly wiping a sponge,” as per Heirloom’s website. The captured carbon dioxide gets packed into concrete or injected into the ground, where Heirloom said it’s held permanently.
This whole process is powered by renewable energy, and the company has publicly pledged to not accept investments from oil and gas companies, the NYT reported.
Why they made this tech in the first place
Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat and warms the planet. If we keep adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, experts say we’re headed to a future with higher sea levels, more frequent natural disasters, and fewer healthy human lives.
A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund and Boston Consulting Group found that if we continue using fossil fuels at current rates, there’ll be the equivalent of 211 million years of human life lost or lived with disability in the year 2050, alone.
So it’s crucial to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we’re releasing. By removing some of the carbon dioxide we’ve already released, it could help us halt climate change even sooner.
“The science is clear: Cutting back carbon emissions through renewable energy alone won’t stop the damage from climate change,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, told the Times. “Direct air capture technology is a game-changing tool that gives us a shot at removing the carbon pollution.”
Carbon capture is not a cure for climate change
Using carbon capture alone won’t be a cure-all for our climate woes. According to the WWF, we must reduce our dependency on fossil fuels rapidly to avoid an even hotter future.
Further, some experts are wary of carbon capture, like climate scientist Peter Kalmus.
Kalmus told Insider in 2021 that pollutive companies might promote investments in carbon capture to distract the public from the amount of fossil fuels they’re actively releasing into the air. This mirrors a popular sentiment about carbon offsets.
“Fossil-fuel companies love carbon capture because it really does let them off the hook,” he said.