A B.C. company plans to open a plant in Texas where giant fans will suck carbon dioxide from the air so it can be permanently stored underground.

The plant, set for completion in 2023, will likely be able to capture 1-megatonne of CO2 annually.

“That’s the work of 40 million trees,” said Carbon Engineering CEO Steve Oldham.

The Squamish-based company’s massive turbine technology works like a giant global warming vacuum to suck carbon straight from the atmosphere. Its fans pull air through a structure filled with corrugated sheets soaked in a solution that absorbs C02. The absorbed carbon-rich solution is then turned it into tiny white pellets, which in turn can be treated at high temperatures to release the carbon dioxide as a gas. It can then be stored permanently underground, or turned into synthetic liquid fuel.

“We’re using a material we’ve treated as waste for years as something that we can reuse,” said engineer Jenny McCahill.

Though direct air capture of carbon has been discussed for years, it recently gained more momentum when the United Nations in 2018 labeled it a necessity to end global warming. Concepts like Carbon Engineering’s fans are all about damage control now, said Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard.

“We are still in a struggle to move forward with policies that reduce the burning of fossil fuels, so now we’re moving to technologies that have to reverse the damages,” he said.

For Oldham and his carbon capture team in Squamish, the goal is as much to have a commercially-viable product as it is to make progress in the fight against global warming.

“If you believe there is a cost to climate change, there is a value in eliminating carbon now,” he said.