Proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions ‘sucks’ — literally. Enter carbon vacuums

One way to get California’s carbon emissions under control: use giant vacuums to suck up carbon from the air and store it underground. It seems far-fetched, but Switzerland and Iceland are already using the industrial strength carbon vacuums.  

How does it work? Ken Alex, director of Project Climate at UC Berkeley School of Law, says carbon vacuums look like a large group of jet engines that suck in air and use chemical reactions to capture CO2. That CO2 goes to a storage facility, where it’s shipped off by pipelines underground. Or the CO2 is turned into byproducts such as bioplastics, methanol, and carbon fiber. 

In California, Alex points out that geologic formations, which are often clustered in and around oil fields, could serve as possible underground storage sites. 

He says the process might be difficult, but it’s necessary.

“Even if we shut off all our sources of CO2 right now, we would still have significant global warming impacts from that CO2. So we really have to take out some of the CO2 that exists in the atmosphere to keep our warming below one and a half or two degrees, which is what scientists think is the important thing to do,” he says.



  • Ken Alex - director of Project Climate at UC Berkeley School of Law; senior policy advisor to former California Gov. Jerry Brown