“Mammoth” carbon capture facility launches in Iceland, expanding one tool in the climate change arsenal


Hellisheidi, Iceland With Mammoth's 72 industrial fans, Swiss start-up Climeworks aims to suck nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air annually to bury it underground, racing to prove the technology has a place in the fight against 'global warming. Mammoth, the biggest capture and storage of carbon dioxide facility of this type, has launched operations this week located in a dormant volcano in Iceland.

The facility adds significant capacity to Climework's first project, Orca, which also sucks the primary greenhouse gas that is fueling climate change out of the atmosphere.

How does Climeworks capture CO2?

Just 31 miles from an active volcano, the seemingly risky site was chosen for its proximity to the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant needed to power the facility's fans and heat chemical filters to extract CO2 with steam water

Swiss start-up Climeworks' new 'Mammoth' carbon dioxide capture and storage facility is seen in Hellisheidi, Iceland on May 8, 2024.


The CO2 is then separated from the steam and compressed in a hangar where large pipes intersect.

Finally, the gas is dissolved in the water and pumped underground in a “kind of giant SodaStream,” said Bergur Sigfusson, head of system development at Carbfix, which developed the process.

A well, drilled under a futuristic-looking dome, injects water 2,300 feet down into the volcanic basalt that makes up 90% of Iceland's subsoil, where it reacts with the rock's magnesium, calcium and iron to form crystals: solid deposits of CO2.

There are a number of other CO2 capture technologies it's used around the world, including in the United States, where the Biden administration has pledged nearly $4 billion to boost the industry.

How two companies approach carbon capture


Methods range from warehouses filled with stacked limestone blocks that absorb CO2 like sponges to burying compressed industrial and agricultural waste to lock in the gas for centuries.

High carbon capture ambitions

For the world to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050, “we would have to eliminate between six and 16 billion tonnes. [17.6 U.S. tons] of CO2 per year from the air,” said Jan Wurzbacher, co-founder and co-head of Climeworks, at the unveiling of the first 12 container fans in Mammoth.

“I strongly believe that a large part of these … have to be covered by technical solutions,” he said.

“Not just us, not as a single company. Others should do it too,” he added, setting his 520-employee start-up the goal of surpassing the million tons by 2030, and approaching the billion by 2050.

Speaking last year with CBS' 60 minutes, Climeworks CTO Carolos Haertel said that technically the scale-up process can be done on a global scale, but he also said that a single company cannot do it, hinting that political will must also to be behind the initiatives.

60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker, left, talks with one of Climeworks' senior staff members at the Orca carbon dioxide capture facility in Iceland, in a 2023 file photo.

60 minutes

“Whether we're taking the right direction will depend as much on the societal stuff as the technical stuff.” Haertel told 60 Minutes' Bill Whitaker at the Orca facilities. “Am I optimistic as an engineer? I am, absolutely. Am I optimistic as a citizen? Maybe half. I haven't decided yet.”

Three years after opening Orca, Climeworks will increase its capacity from about 4,409 to 44,000 tons of CO2 captured annually once Mammoth is at full capacity, but that represents only a fraction of the world's actual emissions.

One of the companies interviewed by CBS News in 2023 about its plans to increase carbon capture operations said it hoped to lock up 50,000 tons of CO2 a year.

Only part of the solution to addressing emissions

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations' climate expert body, carbon removal technologies will be needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but the significant emission reductions are the priority.

The role of direct air capture with carbon storage (DACCS) remains minor in various climate models due to its high cost, and its large-scale deployment depends on the availability of renewable energy to power it.

Climeworks is a pioneer, with the first two plants in the world to have passed the pilot stage at a cost of around $1,000 per tonne captured. Wurzbacher expects that cost to drop to just $300 by 2030.

More than 20 new infrastructure projects, developed by various actors and combining direct capture and storage, should be operational worldwide by 2030, with a combined capacity of around 11 million tonnes.

“We probably need about $10 billion to continue over the next decade to deploy our assets” in the United States, Canada, Norway, Oman and Kenya, said Christoph Gebald, co-founder and co-head of Climeworks. That's 10 times what the company has already raised.

Carbon capture technology removes CO2 from power plant emissions, but is it a climate solution?


“When I'm in Orca now I think, 'Oh, this looks a bit like Lego bricks.' It's a small thing compared to Mammoth,” Wurzbacher said.

Lego purchased carbon credits generated by Climeworks for each ton of CO2 stored. The credits are a way to make the solution known to the general public, said Gebald, who has not ruled out selling credits to the “big polluters” as well.

Critics of the technology point to the risk of giving them a “license to pollute,” or diverting billions of dollars that could be better invested in readily available technology, such as renewable energy or electric vehicles.


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