One company has a plan to cool the planet — use Earth's own heat to help
It might seem counterintuitive, but a company has a plan to use Earth's heat to help cool it off by removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere using a new type of geothermal power facility with direct air capture technology.
In the fight against climate change, direct air carbon capture is going to be an essential component of any strategy to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is essential to staving off the worst effects of a warming planet.
Carbon capture means pulling carbon emissions from the air using some form of carbon sink and then sequestering the extracted carbon underground, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees will require the net extraction of 100 to 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2100.
One of the major challenges of carbon capture is that it requires energy, which can contribute to more carbon emissions and therefore defeat the purpose of carbon capture in the first place. This is what Fervo Energy hopes to solve with its new geothermal facility, which will provide all of the power necessary using carbon-free geothermal power.
“Geothermal can deliver the carbon-free power and heat needed to make DAC a viable means for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Fervo Energy CEO Tim Latimer in a company statement announcing the new facility. “With robust expertise in geosciences and new support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Fervo is well positioned to drive innovation in carbon removal and demonstrate the natural alignment between geothermal and DAC.”
The new facility is going to be supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization founded by Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to help combat various global challenges from climate change to disease eradication.
“Carbon removal technologies are a critical tool for addressing climate change,” said Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Caitlyn Fox. “In order to scale carbon removal, costs need to come down dramatically. Fervo’s unique integration of next-generation geothermal technology with direct air capture creates exciting opportunities to develop rigorous carbon removal at a lower cost while providing a reliable, abundant, carbon-free source of power and heat.”
Is carbon capture enough?
For many, carbon capture might sound like a bit of a boondoggle to avoid the actual hard work of combating climate change, which will require putting less carbon in the atmosphere.
While it's certainly true that some have used the idea of carbon capture as an excuse to not do anything about our fossil fuel infrastructure, it's unavoidable that we have to do something about the carbon emissions that we have already produced.
And while carbon capture alone won't solve the climate crisis, putting all our efforts into just reducing carbon emissions alone seems like a recipe for failure as the politics of climate change stand.
Carbon capture isn't a panacea, but having a zero-emissions way to pull carbon from the atmosphere at scale is absolutely a net positive and should be pursued as much as possible.
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