Climeworks’ CO2 vacuum cleaner, “Mammoth”, is not a solution to the climate crisis

May 8, 2024
  • Proponents of direct air capture technology claim that it will significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The largest plant to date from the Swiss company Climeworks will go into operation in Iceland on 8 May 2024.
  • For OceanCare, this technology is not only an inefficient climate distraction, but poses a direct threat to the marine environment.

The Swiss company Climeworks has launched its largest direct air capture plant in Iceland. The technology is intended to remove carbon dioxide from the air on a large scale, helping to reduce rising global greenhouse gas emissions. In reality, it is an expensive, insufficient, and environmentally damaging distraction from the urgent task of preventing climate-damaging emissions, says OceanCare’s Senior Marine and Climate Scientist, Dr James Kerry.

Climeworks’ latest plant, “Mammoth”, is designed to remove ten times as much CO2 from the air as its predecessor “Orca”, around 36,000 tonnes per year, which equates to around one one millionth of annual global emissions. Even if the technology could be meaningfully scaled up, the potential impacts of the storage of CO2 on marine ecosystems, and the climate itself, have scientists from the international marine conservation organisation, OceanCare, sounding the alarm.

OceanCare expert James Kerry said:

“This mammoth, like its namesake, is doomed to become extinct. Direct capture technology obscures the real issue, which is the immediate phase-out of fossil fuels, as well as tying up resources that are urgently needed elsewhere to tackle the climate crisis.

“For storage, large quantities of water must be mixed with the captured CO2 and pumped underground, where it is theoretically mineralised as rock. If, as planned under expanded operations, seawater is used, the extraction of large quantities would likely have a significant impact on the ocean, while injecting water under high pressure into the sea-bed can trigger seismic activity. This could also release reservoirs of the potent greenhouse gas methane that commonly occur in the seabed.

“Although seismic activity strong enough to trigger tsunamis is unlikely, smaller earthquakes will have a significant impact on the marine environment. These include noise, loss of habitat and the displacement of sediments that can confuse, displace and kill marine life. As direct air capture technology grows and expands, so do these unnecessary risks to the marine environment.”