The carbon capture startup Climeworks recently opened up the world’s biggest direct air CO2 capture and storage system in Iceland. This plant takes CO2 from the air and turns it into stone underground.
The $15 million Orca plant boasts the size of two shipping containers and collects CO2 from the air and pumps it deep underground and mineralizes it for long-term storage.
This first industrial-scale carbon capture and storage plant can catch 4000 tons of CO2 on a yearly basis or the equivalent of 250 US citizens at a cost of approximately $1200 per ton of CO2 eliminated.
Although the cost and capacity are far less than what the world needs, Climeworks explains that the figures will improve and carbon capture will be made more affordable and useful in the years to come.
Carbon Capture Has Long Been a Goal, but the Prototypes Have Been Expensive
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that the world has to lower its emissions and atmospheric greenhouse gases to prevent runaway global warming.
Although carbon capture and storage have long been goals, prototypes have been costly and mostly done on a smaller scale.
Climeworks, based in Switzerland, began this project in 2017 with a demonstrator at Hinwil near Zurich before they shifted their attention to Iceland because of the cheaper renewable energy and geothermal plants that give access to underground storage for the collected carbon.
The fans suck huge amounts of air into Orca which is built next to ON Power’s geothermal power plant Hellisheidi. The chemicals react with the carbon, releasing the nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases back into the atmosphere.
The filters are heated to release the CO2 and Climework’s partner from Iceland, Carbfix, dissolves it into the water and injects it into basaltic rock, 1000 meters underground. Over a period of two years, the dissolved CO2 is crystalized into a mineral that holds it long-term.
This is however an energy-intensive process and it would be pointless on many country’s electricity supplies since the energy used would make more emissions than the system is able to hold. But, in Iceland, the electricity is from zero-carbon, renewable sources.
As well as its emissions, Orca also includes a lot of embedded carbon in its steel and other materials; but, Climeworks notes that the amount of steel in the Orca collector units has been reduced in half when compared to its earlier prototypes.
How Long Did the Process of Building Orca Lasted?
The building of Orca took 15 months and it began in May 2020. Climeworks explain this is a stepping stone to bigger things and they promise to reproduce it in other areas and on larger scales that will help reduce the cost.
They plan a plant ten times larger in a period of three years and lead to a megaton removal capacity by the second part of the decade.
Climeworks hopes to make a carbon removal market; however, currently, the process costs around $1200 per ton of removal.
Although there’s the possibility of removing carbon for a cheaper price, like taking it from the polluting industries where the CO2 concentration is higher, this may require the usage of non-renewable sources of energy.
Climeworks is backed up by the innovation fund of Microsoft and Swiss Re. A large part of its revenue is from corporate customers like Shopify, Microsoft, and Stripe, but also 8000 private individuals.