Last week an Iceland company launched the world’s largest effort to bury atmospheric CO2 underground. While this is a bold and encouraging step forward to protect our species from the ravages of climate change, experts fear decarbonization will not be enough. The world must radically reduce its production of CO2.
When America was not yet a nation, in 1775, carbon dioxide, part of the air we humans have always breathed, there was 277 CO2 ppm molecules of carbon dioxide in air. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the ratio was about 280ppm; by 1958 it stood at 315ppm. Today it is over 415ppm and rising. Imagine. We now breathe in over 165% more carbon dioxide with every breath than our ancesters did in the 1700’s. And it hadn’t changed much before that for over a thousand years. All that walking Jane Austen’s books? Those characters were breathing a whole lot more oxygen than we do now. Carbon dioxide didn’t really start to increase until the industrial revolution got underway after 1850. After that, the growth chart goes from relatively flat to a “hockey stick”.
Imagine. We now breathe in over 165% more carbon dioxide with every breath than our ancestors did in the 1700’s. And it hadn’t changed much before that for over a thousand years. All that walking by the characters in Jane Austen’s books? Those characters were breathing a whole lot more oxygen than we do now. Carbon dioxide as a proportion of the air we breathe didn’t really start to increase until the industrial revolution got underway after 1850. After that, the growth chart goes from relatively flat to a “hockey stick”.
The growth in carbon dioxide is not just affecting what we breathe. It is considered a key factor in global warming leading to the change in climate, resulting in more extreme weather events, wildfires, flooding, etc. Thus the excitement about this Climeworks company’s launch on Sept. 9 2010 in Iceland.
Climeworks’ Orca facility, the newest and largest “direct air capture” project in the world, intends to suck in air, separate the CO2, release it as a stream of gas piped to their affiliate, Carbfix, who converts it to carbonated water and pumps it into the bedrock (which, in Iceland, consists of volcanic basalts. The time for this sequence is about two years.
But Climeworks intends to keep repeating the sequence. It has already sold over 60% of its lifetime expectation for carbon removal to companies seeking to pay to offset their own carbon emissions. These C02 generating companies are now paying up to $1200 per ton for “offsets”. It now costs Climeworks as much as $800 per ton to do the processing. But the company expects to reduce their costs to perhaps as low as $80 per ton over time.
Trying to save the planet long term is looking like a great investment short term. Between 2018 and 202, S&P’s Global Clean Energy Index has generated over 40%, more than twice the returns of the popular S&P 500 index.
But our industrialized world keeps producing more carbon. Much of the “natural” carbon offsets like forests are likely to release all that stored C02 into the atmosphere in forest fires. Our C02 output stays the same. Even if Orca can meet the goal of capturing 4,000 tons of carbon a year and grow, as the company hopes, to eating millions of tons by 2031, the fossil fuels our world companies burn continue to generate about 35,000,000,000 tons a year. That removing thousands or maybe Millions and gaining Billions.
It is a start. And other decarbonization plants are in the works around the world.