Heirloom Carbon Technologies’ cutting-edge plant in California’s Central Valley, the first of its kind in the United States, is using direct air capture technology to vacuum greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. By using a white powder to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and then sealing the gas permanently in concrete, the start-up aims to help companies offset their own emissions. The company plans to expand quickly, with hopes of copying and pasting their basic design to process millions of tons of carbon dioxide per year, as the planet confronts the challenge of climate change.
The plant absorbs a maximum of 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the exhaust from about 200 cars. While some critics point to the wildly expensive cost of around $600 to $1,000 per ton of carbon dioxide, others believe it’s essential to focus on techniques like direct air capture. Microsoft, the biggest customer of Heirloom, is willing to invest in carbon removal credits to fulfill its goal of going carbon negative by 2030. This goal involves offsetting emissions from activities that aren’t easy to clean up, such as the production of cement. The company prefers direct air capture over traditional offsets, citing durability and measurable benefits for climate impact as reasons for their choice. Additionally, the government’s investment in the carbon removal credits from providers like Heirloom illustrates the demand for further development and guidelines by the market.
The start-up’s technology utilizes limestone that becomes the catalyst for the carbon dioxide removal process. While direct air capture remains expensive, some wealthy companies have recognized the importance of paying companies like Heirloom to remove atmospheric carbon. Yet, despite the attention carbon removal is receiving, there’s not enough buyers in the market at the scale needed. As a response to this gap, the U.S. Energy Department is investing in firms that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, the buying up of carbon removal credits as an investment seems to have become a trend among large consumers, like Microsoft, as they prepare to predict which carbon removal technologies will work best.