The principle of carbon capture seems simple. Filters in massive fans at the Orca plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland, capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground in basaltic volcanic rocks, where it can be mineralized.
The factory was built by the Swiss company Climeworks using the technology of another Icelandic company called Carbfix.
“We have a box with a filter material that absorbs CO2. This means that when air is blown through the collector, carbon dioxide adheres to the filter material. When the filter material is saturated, stop, close the box and start heating it on low heat to approximately 38 degrees. “As we do this, CO2 is released from the filter material and can be pumped out of the collector,” said Nathalie Casas, head of research at Climeworks.
The process starts from the beginning after the filter material has been cleaned and carbon dioxide has been collected. Heating to create high-grade dioxide, which enters the basalt rocks, consumes energy provided by renewable sources.
“We are committed to using only renewable energy, so we do not want to emit carbon dioxide during its capture. We did a thorough analysis to find out how much CO2 we are releasing during its capture. At the plant we have in Iceland, the efficiency is higher than 90 percent, which means that for every ton we catch, we emit about 10 percent. So we lose about 100 kilograms “, says Mrs. Casas.
According to the company Climeworks, the plant has a small physical footprint and does not compete with agriculture for land.
The company says a plant like this can be built on any site with renewable energy and storage conditions. According to Carbfix technology, carbon dioxide is diluted in water, poured into the soil and quickly mineralized. In Iceland the target is to extract 4000 tons of carbon from the air every year.
The Orca plant is located in front of a giant geothermal power plant located above Hengill, an active underground volcano that last erupted two thousand years ago. Dozens of giant canals carry hot steam from the depths of the Hengill to turbines, to generate electricity.
There are still no plans to turn carbon into a by-product, technology is still too expensive for that. But there are other forms.
“Carbon capture is a broad term, involving a large number of different technologies. There are recent developments regarding the absorption of carbon, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a range of technologies for direct capture of air. They have similarities to a much older technology for capturing and storing carbon, which does not absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but actually captures carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and industrial production plants and coal, as well as gas power plants. “That carbon capture and storage technology has been a bit disappointing in terms of the extent to which it has been able to be tested, demonstrated and expanded.” Ajay Gambhir, of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
However, Dr. Gambhiri believes factories like Orca have an important role to play when it comes to tackling climate change.
“We need to have a much bigger focus on capturing carbon directly from the air in order to actively develop this direct air capture technology. “It has the advantage that in parallel with the decarbonisation of the world’s energy system, it can also help us do something very important later in this century – the removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” Gambhir.
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