A vast area in rural Wyoming will soon be filled with dozens of containers the size of shipping containers. These are actually devices capable of taking CO2 from the atmosphere, compressing it into a liquid, and piping it to nearby wells, dug thousands of metres deep, for permanent storage. Everything will run on clean energy.
The first units of the system, called Project Bison, will start operating by the end of next year. By 2030, as it grows, the project expects to capture 5 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year, or about the equivalent of the emissions produced by driving a million gas-powered cars for a year. The company would then sell this “carbon removal” service to customers such as companies wishing to offset their emissions. This is the largest such project ever planned in the world.
According to some estimates, the world may need to extract 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere by mid-century. Forests can only help in part – mainly because climate change makes it harder for them to absorb carbon – and direct air capture is likely to be an important part of the new carbon removal industry. Consider, however, that this is still a very expensive way to clean up carbon pollution: a tonne of captured CO2 costs hundreds of dollars.
CarbonCapture is working to reduce costs by finding cheaper materials to absorb the CO2 inside its machines. Other projects are also moving forward. Carbon Engineering, another start-up and a subsidiary of an oil company, is, for example, building a plant in Texas that will capture 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, while Climeworks, the company with the first plant in Iceland, is assessing the feasibility of building a plant in the US that could capture 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Opening image: Artist’s rendering of Project Bison, a 5-megaton carbon removal project in Wyoming. Photo Business Wire