The world's biggest carbon capture plant is now sucking CO2 from the air in Iceland—and while the amounts involved are relatively tiny compared to the massive scale of the world's emissions problem, its builder says it is a step in the right direction. The plant, built on a lava plain near a source of geothermal energy, filters carbon dioxide out of the air, Deutsche Welle reports. The gas is then mixed with water and injected deep into nearby rock, where it will turn to stone in around two years. The plant, known as Orca, can capture 4,000 metric tons of carbon a year, the equivalent of the emissions produced by around 870 cars.
The plant, built by Swiss company Climeworks, cost around $15 million to build. The company says the direct air capture technology involved could be a major tool for fighting climate change. "This is a market that does not yet exist, but a market that urgently needs to be built," says Climeworks co-founder Christoph Gebald, per the Washington Post. "This plant that we have here is really the blueprint to further scale up and really industrialize."
Critics have called the plant an expensive distraction from the urgent need to cut emissions, though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says carbon capture will be needed to help limit global warming. David Morrow, the director of research at the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy at American University, tells Gizmodo that the technology is an "important supplement" to cutting emissions, but not a replacement. "Orca is still small compared to the scale of the challenge, but it’s an important step in the right direction," Morrow says. (Read more carbon capture stories.)