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Progress on a Moonshot: Direct-Air Capture of CO2

Long considered unfeasible, direct-air capture of carbon dioxide has been achieved by a set of entrepreneurs. Scaled up, the expensive technology could slow climate change.
October 23, 2017, 1pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Taras Kalapun

Akshat Rathi reports on a group of companies making significant strides on direct-air capture of CO2. Essentially, the process "consists of machines that work like a tree does, sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out from the air, but on steroids—capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time."

Direct-air capture has been written off as financially unfeasible. "For the past decade, a group of entrepreneurs—partly funded by billionaires like Bill Gates of Microsoft, Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music, and the late Gary Comer of Land's End—have been working to prove those estimates wrong."

In a major step forward, "On Oct. 11, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, [Switzerland's Climeworks] inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions." The machine is still at pilot scale, but it's also "the first system to convert the emissions into stone, thus ensuring they don't escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years."

Deployed at a far greater scale, direct-air capture could be an effective "insurance policy" against climate change. It would involve "spending $500 billion each year capturing carbon dioxide from the air. It seems outrageous, but it may not be if climate change's other damages are put in perspective—and that's what these startups are betting on."

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