The U.S. Secretary of Energy, California’s Lt. Governor and other elected officials visited Tracy on Thursday to open the nation’s first-ever commercial direct capture facility to sequester carbon dioxide emissions.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Chief Economic Advisor to Gov. Newsom Dee Dee Myers and Sens. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) and Anna Caballero (D-Merced) were all in attendance.

Heirloom is a climate technology company that uses limestone to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from air and permanently store it.

Excess CO2 emissions have greatly contributed to climate change, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends the removal of 5 to 10 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050.

Limestone is a non-toxic, abundant rock found in several countries around the globe.

Max Scholten, head of commercialization at Heirloom, explained the carbon removal process and said the limestone used at the facility is sourced from Northern California.

 “Limestone is used in cement production, it’s used in agriculture. If you’ve ever had an upset stomach you probably took some,” said Scholten.

America’s first commercial Direct Air Capture Facility, operated by Heirloom, opened in Tracy, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Heirloom’s technology continuously loops limestone mineral powder through a system that enhances the rock’s ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere within three days, as opposed to taking years. Scholten said the process would still require small amounts of limestone replenishment over time despite the enhancement.

“Limestone is very cheap, but we also want to limit our environmental impact in every way.” Scholten added. “So we recycle it as many times as we possibly can. It’s really essential to us that we’re not just saving on costs, but ensuring that our overall environmental impact is as low as possible.”

Speaking at the facility launch, Sen. Caballero emphasized the importance of carbon capture and sequestration in the Central Valley, citing its potential to create good jobs and address affordability issues.

Max Scholten, Head of Commercialization at Heirloom, gives a tour of the Direct Air Capture facility in Tracy, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Caballero co-authored California Senate Bill 905, passed in September 2022, with Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The legislation directs the California Air Resources Board to facilitate and govern the safe deployment of carbon capture and carbon dioxide removal projects.

“We have a meeting scheduled in two weeks in my district, where we’re bringing in the scientists from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to explain what carbon capture is, to explain the potential and to overcome some of the fear that that is in the community around industrial development,” Caballero said.

Kounalakis noted that California is home to the very first solar farm in the world, pointing towards the windfarms on Altamont Pass.

“It was seven megawatts of solar in that farm; California now has 41,000 megawatts of solar,” Kounalakis said. “California is home to the largest battery storage facility anywhere in the world… And now here in Tracy, California, we are about to see the opening of the very first carbon capture facility on an industrial scale anywhere in the world,” she added. “And it is a historic moment for that.”

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