'World's largest' vacuum designed to suck pollution out of the air begins operation

Credit: Myrdal/Climeworks

The "world's largest" plant designed to suck planet-heating pollution out of the atmosphere began operating in Iceland on Wednesday.

"Mammoth" will work like a giant vacuum to suck in air and strip out the carbon using chemicals. The carbon can then be injected deep beneath the ground, reused, or transformed into solid products.

The technology is called Direct air capture, or DAC. Mammoth is the second DAC plant operated by Swiss company Climeworks and is ten times bigger than its predecessor, Orca, which started running in 2021.

Climeworks' first direct air capture plant, Orca, was launched in 2021 Credit: Climeworks

Climeworks plans to transport the carbon underground where it will be naturally transformed into stone, meaning the carbon will be locked up forever.

The operation will be powered by Iceland's abundant geothermal energy.

Mammoth will pull up to 36,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere a year. That's equivalent to taking about 7,800 gas-powered cars off the road.

The vacuum has a modular design with space for 72 "collector containers". Credit: Myrdal/Climeworks

Scientists say the world needs to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

And as the planet continues to heat up, solutions such as DAC are gaining more attention from governments and private companies.

But the technology is still controversial, having been criticised as expensive, energy-hungry, and unproven at scale.

Carbon capture in general is "fraught with uncertainties and ecological risks", according to Lili Fuhr of the Centre for International Environment law.

All the carbon removal equipment in the world is only capable of removing around 0.01 million metric tons of carbon a year - a far cry from the 70 million tons a year needed by 2030 to meet global climate goals.

But Climeworks says they have ambitions to increase their scale of carbon removal by building new plants in the next six years.

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