Though it’s still a controversial technology, direct air capture—also called carbon capture—is gaining traction. In the last few years, carbon capture plants have sprung up in Switzerland, Iceland, the US, and Canada. Now a facility that will dwarf all the rest is being built in the Cowboy State: Wyoming. Project Bison will aim to remove five million tons of atmospheric CO2 annually by 2030.
Given the total amount of CO2 that’s in the atmosphere—and still being emitted every day—five million seems like a paltry number; in 2019, the US alone emitted an estimated 5,130 million metric tons of the stuff. But when compared to the not-too-extensive history of direct air capture facilities, five million tons is a lot.
The world’s first commercial carbon capture plant opened near Zurich, Switzerland in 2017. It ran as a three-year demonstration project, capturing an estimated 900 tons of CO2 (the equivalent to the annual emissions of 200 cars) per year.
One year ago, a plant about four times as large as the Zurich facility started operating in Iceland. Called Orca (after the Icelandic word for energy), it’s currently the largest operational facility of its type, capturing 4,000 tons of carbon per year (that’s equal to the emissions of 790 cars—again, pretty small potatoes, right?). The plant consists of eight “collector containers” about the size and shape of a shipping container.