A new climate initiative is making waves in California as Heirloom, the first commercial direct air capture (DAC) plant in the United States, opened its doors in Tracy. This pioneering facility utilizes limestone, the second most abundant mineral on Earth, to actively capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is then securely stored within concrete, effectively preventing its release into the atmosphere.
Once considered a far-fetched concept, capturing and storing carbon dioxide directly from the air is now viewed as an essential tool in combating the climate crisis. Heirloom’s approach involves heating limestone in industrial kilns to a scorching 1,650°F (899°C), breaking it down into carbon dioxide and calcium oxide. The carbon dioxide is subsequently stored within concrete, suitable for use in construction projects. The remaining calcium oxide powder is spread on trays, exposed to open air, and naturally absorbs carbon, binding it to the gas. This process is repeated, utilizing heat to separate and capture the newly collected carbon. While other DAC systems employ large fans to extract air, Heirloom’s method relies partially on limestone’s inherent ability to attract carbon molecules from the air, consuming less energy in the process.
Shashank Samala, the CEO of Heirloom, was inspired to take climate action by his upbringing in southeastern India, marked by heatwaves and droughts. He envisions the Tracy facility as the first of many, emphasizing the importance of solutions that have a significant and scalable impact on climate change.
It should be noted that the current facility has a maximum capacity to capture 1,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, which is a fraction of the emissions from a typical gas-fired power plant. However, Heirloom aims to remove 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2035, with ambitious plans to expand its capacity threefold each year to reach this target. Scaling up will undoubtedly present challenges, but Heirloom is determined to make a meaningful contribution to addressing the climate crisis.