The Time Machine: This technology filters carbon out of Earth's atmosphere

Climeworks says in Orca's first year of operation, the facility is expected to pull 4,000 tons of carbon out of the air.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021
The Time Machine: Technology filters carbon out of Earth's atmosphere
An operation in Iceland uses carbon capture technology to filter out the carbon from the Earth's atmosphere -- effectively acting as a climate change "time machine."

ICELAND (KABC) -- It's easy to feel small and insignificant when contemplating our climate crisis.

But a new plant, that just went into operation in Reykjavik, Iceland, serves as a reminder that there are brilliant people all over the world that say the fight is just beginning.

There is hope. Just as we have used science to power our world with fossil fuels, we are now using science to stop the damage it has caused. In this case, the technology is called carbon capture.

"The hope is to reverse climate change. It's, simply speaking, it's a climate time machine. It allows us to go backwards," said Christoph Gebald, founder of and CEO of Climeworks.

"Going backwards is our future" does sound weird, but here's what he means.

An operation called Orca sits just outside of Reykjavik, Iceland. It's a dream Gebald has been working on for 14 years.

"Orca is the world's largest direct air capture and storage facility, meaning it has fans and takes in atmospheric air, obviously containing CO2. It filters the CO2 out of the air," Gebald explained.

You can think of it as a huge air filtration system. It sucks in air and then it filters out all the carbon. Climeworks officials say in the first year of operation, they believe this facility will pull 4,000 tons of carbon out of the air.

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As part of Eyewitness News' "Earth on the Edge" series, Anchor David Ono joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory team on the final day of a six-year study over the polar ice caps in Greenland.

It's tough to put 4,000 tons of carbon into perspective, but we all learned in grade school that trees are good for the Earth. They convert CO2, or carbon, into oxygen.

"When you see Orca, it's on a land plot of roughly 2,000 square meters. On this land plot, you could plant around about 200 trees. They would capture 4 tons of CO2. Orca captures 4,000 tons," Gebald said.

Greed has led to the world losing enormous amounts of trees. In complete disregard to the long lasting damage to the Earth, rainforests are being cut down to make room for crops that can give investors quick profits.

Add to that, the resulting climate change causing drought and wildfires -- more trees are lost.

This cycle of demise gets faster with each day. We need ideas like Orca. But why put it in Iceland?

"Iceland for two reasons. First, is access to green energy, concretely geothermal energy. We can use that heat for driving our process. Point two is, Iceland is more or less consisting of a rock called basalt, and this rock has an affinity to CO2, meaning if you take CO2 from the air and pump it underground, it will turn CO2 into stone and consequently lock it away forever," Gebald said.

And even though this facility sits near the top of the world, it's cleaning up your pollution, no matter where you live.

"Emissions of China or emissions of the U.S. reach Iceland in a couple of days, because the atmosphere is very well mixed. Pulling carbon from the air in Iceland will have a cooling effect globally," Gebald said.

The important point is, if this place is successful you are going to see a whole lot more of them popping up all over the world including quite possibly the United States. The bottom line is, it's these kinds of ideas that will help bring our world society into a carbon neutral place.

California is investing money and manpower into this technology, and so is China. Perhaps this is the beginning of a revolution.

Great minds are responding to our climate crisis. Yes, there is work to be done, but in that there is also hope.

Watch David Ono's special, "Climate Crisis: Earth on the Edge" here or on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and GoogleTV. Just search "ABC7 Los Angeles."