ENGINEERINGS NEW HOLY GRAIL, CARBON CAPTURE.

Just outside Zurich, more than a dozen massive fans are fast at work, cleaning the air of carbon dioxide. So-called direct air capture is the leading edge of what could become the largest environmental industry aimed at saving the planet. The race to reduce carbon emissions is heating up, much like the planet itself is. But reducing emissions alone will not be enough to stop what’s happening. It is not even enough to reach the goal of the Paris climate agreement, which is to limit global in this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. There is, however, a technology that’s being touted as a way to get us there faster — vacuuming carbon from the atmosphere — and major investors are now piling in.

It has to become a trillion-dollar market. People think those are the kinds of investors that see that there’s a long-term return on this. It has been likened to the fast rise of electric vehicles, solar panels and wind farms. Now the state of California is working on plans to use carbon capture to reach its aggressive goal of carbon neutrality. “We have to try to proceed. There’s no choice. We have to sequester carbon at a high rate,” said Ken Alex, director of Project Climate at the Center for Law, Energy and Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

Carbon-capture technology has been around for a while, he noted, but was considered too expensive. “The price has already come down dramatically, and as it scales up, I think it’s not unrealistic to think that this is a viable opportunity,” he said. Alex estimates that the world needs about 50,000 carbon-capture plants by 2050, which would cost about $10 trillion. It is unquestionably a colossal investment, but with ample potential returns — beyond of course saving the planet.

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