Good News for Climate Change: World’s First Carbon-Capturing Plant Opens

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 13, 2017 0

The last time the world was definitely warmer than today was about 125,000 years ago, according to NASA, which analyzed paleoclimatic data from ice cores, sediments and tree rings, among other sources.

In 628 months, there hasn’t been a cool one.

That’s more than 52 years.

“Global warming has made cold scarce,” writes Brian Kahn in an April 19, 2017, article published on the Climate Central website. And according to NASA, March 2017 was 2.02 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 1951–1980 average, with April 2017 being the second-warmest April in 137 years of modern recordkeeping. In fact, notes Kahn, if you were born after December 1964, you’ve never experienced a month cooler than average on this planet.

That’s why an event in Switzerland just a few weeks ago, on May 31, 2017, is so exciting and gives me hope. On that day, a company called Climeworks became the world’s first to commercially remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into a useful product.

I feel as though I’ve seen the future—and, for the first time in a long while, it doesn’t look all bad.

Climate woes

In this chart, global temperature data is averaged and adjusted to the early industrial baseline (1881–1910). Source: NASA GISS and NOAA NCEI

To graphically represent the chain of warm months we’ve been experiencing and how unusual it is, Climate Central created a chart (shown at left) with a colored box to represent each month from 1880 to 2015. You can see that the cool, blue months have been disappearing, replaced by red boxes of unrelenting heat.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is released through natural processes—such as respiration and volcanic eruptions—and through human activities, such as deforestation, land use changes and the burning of fossil fuels. Coal and oil are the biggest fossil fuel culprits. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, raising levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years.

Increased greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm. Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, with some becoming wetter and others drier. While some crops and other plants may respond favorably to increased atmospheric CO2—growing more vigorously and using water more efficiently—hotter temperatures and shifting climate patterns will change the areas where crops grow best and affect the composition of natural plant communities.

In our oceans, a stronger greenhouse effect will warm the waters and partially melt glaciers and other ice, increasing sea level. Ocean water also expands when it warms, further contributing to sea-level rise. That could displace millions of people, leading to a global refugee crisis.

The CO2 capture plant in Switzerland is the world’s first to commercially remove the gas directly from the atmosphere and put it to use. ©Climeworks, Julia Dunlop

Climeworks

Just two weeks ago, an encouraging development surfaced in Switzerland. Climeworks, a direct-air, CO2 capture plant, went live. On the roof of a garbage incineration plant outside Zurich, a Climeworks team installed 18 carbon dioxide collectors. Powered by wasted heat from the incinerator, the collectors use fans to suck ambient air into filters, which absorb the CO2. The filters are then heated, and the carbon dioxide is removed and piped into nearby greenhouses, which will use 900 metric tons of the captured carbon to grow crops each year. The captured CO2 could also be used to manufacture transportation fuel, carbonated soft drinks and other products.

The company wants to dramatically scale up its technology over the next decade, and its long-term goal is to capture 1 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. To meet that goal, 250,000 similar direct-air capture plants would have to be built.

The captured CO2 from the Climeworks facility is being used to grow crops in nearby greenhouses. ©Climeworks, Julia Dunlop

Other companies, such as the British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering, are also working on direct-air capture plants that will commercially suck carbon dioxide from the air. The Climeworks plant, however, is the first one to operate on an industrial scale.

Of course, capturing carbon dioxide from the air and getting rid of human-generated fossil fuel emissions will be necessary to alleviate rapid climate change. But having the first industrial carbon-capture company up and running is a positive step forward.

Watch the video below from Climeworks. I hope it gives you hope for the future, too.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

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