Energy

World's largest direct air capture plant starts absorbing CO2 in Iceland

World's largest direct air cap...
The new Orca direct air capture plant for CO2 storage relies on a modular construction method, where the technology is packed inside stackable units
The new Orca direct air capture plant for CO2 storage relies on a modular construction method, where the technology is packed inside stackable units
View 2 Images
The new Orca direct air capture plant for CO2 storage relies on a modular construction method, where the technology is packed inside stackable units
1/2
The new Orca direct air capture plant for CO2 storage relies on a modular construction method, where the technology is packed inside stackable units
Called Orca, the world's largest direct air capture plant for CO2 storage has opened in Iceland
2/2
Called Orca, the world's largest direct air capture plant for CO2 storage has opened in Iceland

An ambitious startup looking to eat into the world's carbon emissions has just taken its biggest bite yet, flicking the switch on the largest direct air capture and CO2 storage plant on the planet. Climework's latest facility is designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it away permanently underground through a pioneering mineralization process, and features a novel modular design that will be key to the company's plans of scaling up.

Shifting away from fossil fuel use and generating less carbon dioxide in the first place is the key to preventing global temperatures from rising 1.5 ºC (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels. However, there are a growing number of technologies emerging that may help us remove what is already there, and could have a part to play in helping us avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Among those is direct air capture (DAC), which sits apart from carbon sequestration technologies that pull CO2 directly from power plants and instead seeks to collect it from the ambient air. Climeworks has been working at the forefront of this field since the startup was founded in 2009, its system using huge fans to draw ambient air through a filter that selectively captures the CO2 for use in carbonated beverages, or in greenhouses to help grow vegetables.

Traditionally, storing CO2 in underground reservoirs has carried the risk of leaks, but in 2016 a separate group of scientists working on the CarbFix project made a game-changing breakthrough. The researchers had been investigating how reactions between the gas and rocky underground materials can turn CO2 into solid minerals, a natural process that takes hundreds or even thousands of years.

This led to the discovery of a technique that significantly fast-tracks this process, shortening the time it takes to mineralize CO2 to less than two years. This drew the attention of Climeworks, which teamed up with CarbFix on a pilot project at ON Power's Hellisheidi geothermal power plant in Iceland in 2017. Here, the startup's DAC system was used to capture and safely stow away around 12.5 tons of CO2 over three months, turning it into the world's first negative-emissions power plant.

Called Orca, the world's largest direct air capture plant for CO2 storage has opened in Iceland
Called Orca, the world's largest direct air capture plant for CO2 storage has opened in Iceland

The Hellisheidi geothermal power plant is again home to the company's latest DAC facility, which is called Orca. Work began here in May 2020 relying on a modular construction method where the technology is packed inside stackable units. These units use half the steel of previous designs and also capture CO2 more efficiently, and sitting adjacent to the power plant, are powered entirely by renewable energy.

Orca began operations today and, according to Climeworks, will harvest 4,000 tons of CO2 from the air each year. As it stands this is a drop in the ocean compared to the more than 30 gigatons, or 30 billion tons, of CO2 humans pump into the air every year, but is a marked improvement on what the company was capable of capturing just a few years ago. As it expands, the company plans to scale up its removal capacity to capture millions of tons of CO2 by the second part of this decade.

”Orca, as a milestone in the direct air capture industry, has provided a scalable, flexible and replicable blueprint for Climeworks’ future expansion," says Climeworks co-founder Jan Wurzbacher. "With this success, we are prepared to rapidly ramp up our capacity in the next years. Achieving global net-zero emissions is still a long way to go, but with Orca, we believe that Climeworks has taken one significant step closer to achieving that goal."

Source: Climeworks

17 comments
17 comments
rbolman
So, just out of honest curiosity, does removing the CO2 from the ambient air affect the vegetation in the area at all?
Grunchy
Must be powered by geothermal electricity. Say, what if we found a way to produce geothermal electricity anywhere else and not just Iceland?
roger90
Like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.
see3d
Using clean power to remove carbon might not be as efficient as replacing the dirty power with clean power initially. However, this CO2 removal tech could be located anywhere. There may be places with abundant clean power potential that are too remote for practical power distribution. Perhaps solar in remote deserts, remote ocean wind, or ocean geothermal vents.
bwana4swahili
4,000 tons captured per year is a long way from the 30,000,000,000 tons of CO2 emitted annually but is a start...
Manny Frishberg
Climeworks has been demonstrating its technical proficiency at actually reducing atmospheric CO2, but as of the last reporting, s till at economically unfeasible cost. Unfortunately this announcement does not include any information about the cost per ton of carbon captured.
Karmudjun
Thanks Nick. Some said it couldn't be done - and frankly, pulling CO2 from the air is exactly what the ocean did for so many years - but now the ocean is getting saturated. Would it not be easier to pull the CO2 from the ocean? Maybe restoring the Ocean's Carbon-capacity to be a huge Carbon Sink is harder to do, or maybe it is easier to do? But no matter - it is all drop in the bucket for now. This is a pinch in the recipe that needs to be exponentially greater!
DaveWesely

It's good to see technology used to remove CO2, rather than just slow down down its release into the atmosphere. Back of the napkin math tells me this one plant would sequester about the same amount of carbon as that sequestered via pyrolysis from about 2000 acres of corn stover. Or one farmer, if we developed the equipment and economic incentives for it. Plus, baking organic matter would be a lot simpler than this process and much more scalable.
Lindsey Roke
Grunchy asks 'What if we found a way to produce geothermal anywhere else and not just Iceland?'
We have.
Iceland generated 5231 GWh per year from geothermal energy (the average for the last three years (2012-2013 & 2014) for which I could find data).
Here, New Zealand generated. from our geothermal power stations, an average (over the last 8 quarters) of 7820 GWh/yr. That's 50% more than Iceland. However, while we both have the biggest percentage generated from hydro, Iceland certainly beats us on generating a higher percentage from renewable than we do.
Note that, as I recall, Italy was the first country to use geothermal energy to generate grid electricity. It currently produces somewhere above 5600 GWh/year
Crimsontiger6
Not economically viable. Just a smoke screen for the fossil fuel sector to keep pumping out CO2.
Load More