Is this really the key to fighting climate change?

Suck It, Carbon!

A new carbon capture facility that claims to be the biggest of its kind in the world began quite literally sucking the carbon from the atmosphere this week.

The plant, called "Mammoth" by Swiss company Climeworks, kicked off operations in Iceland on Wednesday, CNN reports, grabbing the available carbon from the air and injecting it deep below the surface to lock it up permanently.

Best of all, the operation is entirely powered by the island nation's geothermal energy, allowing it to put a dent in the abundance of carbon dioxide polluting our planet's atmosphere without adding to the problem.

However, whether direct air capture (DAC) plants are our best bet to ward off an impending climate catastrophe remains a heated debate, with experts arguing they're merely a distraction from the root causes of climate change.

Making a Dent

Giant fans at Climeworks' Mammoth plant suck in the surrounding air, scrubbing it of carbon and pumping it deep into the ground where it turns into stone.

As its name suggests, the plant is absolutely enormous: ten times bigger than its three-year-old predecessor called Orca.

At full capacity, the company claims the facility can suck 36,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, the equivalent of taking 7,800 combustion-engine cars off the road per year.

But the process isn't cheap. While Climeworks didn't reveal the exact cost, each ton of carbon costs close to $1,000 to remove, CNN reports. To make the process economically feasible, that cost would have to sink closer to $100 a ton, something that Climeworks co-founder Jan Wurzbacher says would be possible by around 2050.

The idea has also caught on in the US, with startup Occidental announcing plans to build an even bigger DAC facility called STRATOS last year, which is designed to suck up 500,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Squeezing the Last Drop

However, experts remain skeptical that such facilities will be the key to fending off climate change. Many of them claim it's a dangerous distraction from far more glaring issues.

Even more worryingly, Big Oil has already adopted the concept with the hopes of extracting even more oil from the captured carbon — in the eyes of many, a step in the wrong direction.

"One of the concerns that we have is that folks are going to try and use this as an offset for continued fossil fuel production," nonprofit Carbon180 executive director Erin Burns told Axios last year, "when largely the role of carbon removal is to address legacy emissions."

"And we are seeing oil companies talk about this being a way to offset continued oil production," she added. "That's concerning."

More on carbon capture: Scientists Say New Material Can Suck Carbon Out of Atmosphere Faster Than Trees

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