Big tech’s growing embrace raises the stakes for CO2 removal

(China Dialogue, 20 May 2022) Musk and Meta join big tech fellows in putting billions towards carbon capture solutions. It may spark innovation and scaling, but raises questions over governance.

It wasn’t the most auspicious start to a new era of global climate correction by tech mega-corporations.

Early in April, Swiss start-up Climeworks announced it had raised US$650 million from big investors for the expansion of Orca, a pioneering plant built amid the glaciers of Iceland that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere and buries it deep underground – a prototype, said Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, for a massive new global industry that could stave off runaway climate change. But just two weeks later, the machine ground to a halt after only six months of operation. It was a victim, said its operators, of freezing temperatures.

The company has not responded to our requests for an update on the state of the plant, but it has been reportedly forced to embark on design modifications. Its promise to extract 4,000 tonnes of CO2 from the air in the first year looks unlikely to be met. 

Still, investors are not downhearted. Long-standing backer Microsoft, and new arrivals such as the reinsurance giant SwissRe are sticking with the project, which promises to be removing 40,000 tonnes within three years and more than 1 million tonnes by 2030.

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China Dialogue, 20 May 2022: Big tech’s growing embrace raises the stakes for CO2 removal