Carbon capture in Iceland — oh, the irony!

Carbon, as we all know, is the central building block of organic life here on Earth.  Carbon dioxide is an animal byproduct of the process of living: forming within cells during metabolism, moving via the bloodstream to the lungs, then being exhaled.  Plants inhale CO2 to live and grow.  What a wonderful symbiosis covering our world!  Other sources of CO2 include volcanic eruptions and the byproducts of human communities — burning various fuels for heating, cooking, transport, and industry.

A little less than 0.03% (3 parts in 10,000) of the Earth's atmosphere is made of CO2, classified as a trace gas.  NOAA has this to say "global average atmospheric carbon dioxide was 414.72 parts per million ('ppm' for short) in 2021, setting a new record high[.]"  NOAA's records only go back 60 years — or 3 parts in 225 million of the Earth's 4.5 billion years.  Perhaps our nation's premiere atmospheric sciences institution can be forgiven for missing a few facts.  But I don't think it should be.

Evidence exists that CO2 in the atmosphere appears to have no correlation at all with global temperature, although rejiggering timescales can make it look that way.  A clear chart shows that, at one time, there were 10,000 ppm (22 times today's amount), and the Earth was colder than it is today.  The climate changes mostly due to the sun and its various cycles and not because of carbon in the air.

Nevertheless, there are those who believe that atmospheric carbon will doom us all.  Personally, I wouldn't mind warmer weather, a greener landscape, expanding coral reefs, more diverse insect, plant, marine, and animal life, and faster-growing plants, which is what a warming Earth will bring us.  Not to worry, though: The current Hallstatt/Bray cycle will peak at around the year 2600, and cyclical cooling will commence.  So far, we've managed to live through 20 of these cycles since we expanded from our African homeland 50,000 years ago.

In any case, there are multiple projects around the world seeking to capture carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it underground.  Recent news celebrated breaking ground for one such facility in Iceland.  CNBC reported that the Swiss company Climeworks is building a facility designed to pull 36,000 tons of carbon annually from the atmosphere and sink it underground.  That's 0.0001% of the estimated 36 billion tons that human activity emitted last year.  As human inputs account for an estimated 22% of atmospheric carbon, that's not a lot of mitigation.

Image: Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano plume by anjči.  CC BY 2.0.

Iceland is one of the least vegetated countries in the world.  Maybe it's a good thing that it's choosing to suck carbon out of the air there, several hundred miles from any mainland in any direction.

Iceland generates the electricity needed to operate this plant by geothermal and hydroelectric means, close to net zero after construction.  However, the inputs for "Mammoth," as the place is named, require ground preparation using massive earth-moving machines, shipping components over rough seas, and installation in harsh climatic conditions.  It should be complete in a couple of years.  Over the next 15 years or so, carbon removal costs are expected to decline from $500 per ton to $200.  By then, the annual cost of operations may drop from $18 million to $7.2 million per year.

Big industrial plants like these have an average lifespan of 50–60 years.  So Mammoth could potentially scrub 1.8 million billion to 2.2 million billion tons of carbon from the air during its expected years of operation.  Anybody remember the Icelandic volcano that disrupted air travel back in 2010?  Eyjafjallajökull was active for 95 days, emitting 30,000 tons of CO2 each day for a total of 2.85 million billion tons of atmospheric carbon.  CO2 is a long-term tenant in the air, remaining there for 300 to 1,000 years.

Mammoth, over its lifetime, will not even suck up all the carbon emitted during a three-month period more than ten years ago by a nearby volcano.  We've got 30 more years to go in the current Modern Grand Solar Minimum.  Increased volcanism is a hallmark of GSMs, and sweet little Iceland sits over a hotspot in the Earth's crust and contains 32 active volcanic systems.

So why do this now?  Follow the money.  Microsoft just invested part of its $1-billion Climate Innovation Fund into Climeworks.  Other large companies, as well as small investors, are following suit, substituting the efforts of others to extract carbon for their own responsibility, as they see it, to reduce carbon emissions.  Greenies can't seem to tell the difference.  If they truly believe that carbon emissions are such a bad thing, they should just stop.  It's the height of foolishness and juvenile behavior to think that something's bad, but it's okay if I do it because I plan to clean it up afterward.  Hypocritical, childish fools.

Hat tip to Dr. Patrick Moore.

Anony Mee is the nom de blog of a retired public servant.

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