Environment

World's first "negative emission" power plant turns CO2 into stone

World's first "negative emissi...
This geothermal power plant in Iceland has become the world's first negative emission power plant
This geothermal power plant in Iceland has become the world's first negative emission power plant
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Basalt core containing carbonates - the white mineral is the CO2
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Basalt core containing carbonates - the white mineral is the CO2
This geothermal power plant in Iceland has become the world's first negative emission power plant
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This geothermal power plant in Iceland has become the world's first negative emission power plant
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The unit designed to capture CO2 from the air
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The unit designed to capture CO2 from the air
The team after installing the DAC system on site in Iceland
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The team after installing the DAC system on site in Iceland

After opening the world's first commercial Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant designed to pull CO2 out of the air, Swiss company Climeworks is now joining forces with a geothermal power plant in Iceland to create the world's first "negative emission" power plant.

For several years an international team of scientists has been working on a novel way to turn captured CO2 into solid minerals. The project is dubbed CarbFix and involves bounding the CO2 to water and then pumping it 700 meters (2,300 ft) underground. This CO2 solution, on contact with the deep basalt rock, was found to quickly form into a carbonate mineral.

Before this discovery it was thought that this mineralization process could take anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years, but the CarbFix team were surprised to discover the CO2 formed into a solid mineral in under two years.

"Our results show that between 95 and 98 per cent of the injected CO2 was mineralized over the period of less than two years, which is amazingly fast," says lead author on the CarbFix project, Dr Juerg Matter.

Basalt core containing carbonates - the white mineral is the CO2
Basalt core containing carbonates - the white mineral is the CO2

Climeworks has been pioneering a novel DAC system over the past few years. The technology can collect CO2 from ambient air onto a patented filter before it is purified and then sold on to businesses needing the gas in a commercial context. The first commercial plant in Zurich is delivering the collected CO2 to a nearby greenhouse.

Carbon sequestration, where CO2 is captured and stored in underground reservoirs, has been the source of much controversy in recent years. An MIT study from 2015 suggested that prior sequestration processes have not been especially effective. So while we can capture the CO2 we still don't have a large-scale method to safely dispose of it, and there is a very real concern that sequestered CO2 could leak back into the atmosphere.

Combining the Climeworks DAC technology with the CarbFix mineralization process offers a proof-of-concept for a system that is not only carbon neutral but actually carbon negative.

"The potential of scaling-up our technology in combination with CO2 storage, is enormous," says Climeworks CEO Christoph Gebald. "Not only here in Iceland but also in numerous other regions which have similar rock formations."

Of course the economic cost of deploying this kind of carbon capture technology on a large scale is not particularly pragmatic right now, but for the first time we are seeing realistic and effective carbon capture and storage systems.

Source: Climeworks

14 comments
aksdad
My first thought was, “by ‘first negative emission power plant’ do you mean ‘negative power emission’?” A power plant that converts CO2 to rock must consume a lot of power, which is the opposite of what a power plant is supposed to do. I read the article waiting for the punch line and to my delight spotted it in the final paragraph: “Of course the economic cost of deploying this kind of carbon capture technology on a large scale is not particularly pragmatic right now...”
jamesb
It is highly dangerous to remove plant food from the atmosphere, which is a system poorly understood and misunderstood in particular in relation to the lithosphere and hydrosphere. Climeworks’s sponsors and shareholders should not be protected from liability for ill effects of spreading this technology.
Nik
If I was an alien, and I wanted to remove all humans from the planet, so I could colonise it, all I would need to do is reduce atmospheric CO2 to near zero, and that would achieve it. This could be achieved by seeding the atmosphere with dust that would reduce solar energy reaching Earths surface. This would cause the atmosphere to cool, this would also cool the oceans, and the CO2 that the oceans release which replenishes the CO2 used by plant life, would diminish. Eventually, there would be insufficient CO2 for plants to survive, so they would die. Followed by all animal life dependent upon it, including humans life. However, I dont have to, because humans are doing it for me!
Nik
Amazing!? Ocean creatures have been doing this for millions of years, its called limestone, and there's millions of cubic miles of the stuff all over the globe.
Bob
Any operation that is an economic negative won't last long. What's theoretically possible and what's practical are two very different things.
LordInsidious
We used to be the ones who solve the worlds issues, now we are the only ones who won't admit there is an issue let alone resolve it and export the solution to the rest of the world.
BrianK56
If the CO2 was captured directly from the source ( Smoke Stacks ) from industrial sources it would make a lot more sense. I agree with the other comments that too much removed is not good.
JimFox
Surprising result! The economic cost must be very little in Iceland which has 100% renewables by way of hydrothermal generation. Very few similar locations exist now but it's start. "To my delight..." well, f*ck your 'delight' & your negativity. May you die from CO2 poisoning! jamesb-- foolish remark; plants have always adapted to CO2 levels & will continue.
dougspair
...I've always wondered how well 'sealed' these underground caverns are...?
Science and Econ
Is this CO2-killing industrial plant some sort of sick joke? Our current 400 ppm CO2 level is dangerously low for many plants; 5,000 ppm would be ideal. 5,000 ppm CO2 would greatly boost plant growth and lift 1,000,000,000 people out of poverty. Too bad 99+% of CO2 is natural and 99.999999% of the greenhouse effect is natural and Man can't tinker with it - even if we wanted to.