Companies’ joint efforts to swiftly decarbonize the world. On a barren, snow-dusted stretch of Icelandic tundra to the east of Reykjavik, there are eight enormous metal boxes.
These boxes are stacked in twos on concrete stilts. Thus, rising out of the earth. On one side, there is a bank of several black fans that rotate nonstop, drawing in fresh air.
Climeworks, a Swiss company, is responsible for the construction of this direct air capture (DAC) facility, which they dubbed Orca. “CO2 collectors” are what the fans at Climeworks are. They play a critical role in the company’s overall plan to permanently remove carbon.
Orca was constructed in the year 2020. It is the first of its type as well as the most extensive test of DAC technology to date.
Climeworks is one of the many start-up companies and research institutions that are competing to develop technology that can sequester and store carbon dioxide.
The process of carbon capture and storage involves moving CO2 emissions. This includes those produced by a coal or gas plant into underground reservoirs. Carbon dioxide removal, or CDR, is the process of taking carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it. These can be either temporarily in the biosphere (through plants or soils) or permanently in the geosphere (through mineralization).
According to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and one of the authors of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “It’s helpful to separate these ideas. This is because they play quite distinct roles in our deep decarbonization scenarios.”
Joint efforts by companies to swiftly decarbonize the planet
Drastically reducing emissions in a short period of time is essential. However, this alone will not be enough to bring the climate back under control. According to Hausfather, the temperature today is expected to reach 1.2 or 1.3 degrees Celsius. “And it’s not going to be possible for us to cut emissions at a rate that’s rapid enough to keep us from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next few decades.”
The problem with reducing our CO2 emissions is that even if we succeed in doing so, the planet will not return to its previous temperature. The only way to cool the planet is to create a CO2 deficit. And it is what makes the CDR position so special. ”
Climeworks CO2 collectors suck in air from the surroundings. The carbon dioxide then passes across filters that have been coated with amines. After that, it then reacts with the gas and binds it. After the substance has been saturated, it is heated to 100 degrees Celsius. Because this causes it to release a stream of pure carbon dioxide.
The procedure has been compared to a vacuum cleaner by Carlos Haertel, who is the chief technical officer at Climeworks. A large amount of air is drawn in, filtered to remove what isn’t wanted, and then the rest of the air is pushed out. This leaves the contaminants behind.
Carbfix, an Icelandic start-up company, takes over once the CO2 has been collected. The company is a subsidiary of Reykjavik Energy and is publicly held. It is focusing on the next piece of the jigsaw, which is secure, long-term CO2 storage.
Carbfix is able to permanently store carbon by injecting it deep below into various geological formations. Within two years, all the CO2 will have turned into stone. This is as a result of its reaction with the volcanic basalt rock. This rock is abundant in atomic ions such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
According to Kristinn Larusson, who is in charge of the business development department. “What we are doing is repeating what nature has done for hundreds of millions of years.” “What we are doing is only accelerating the process.”
Since 2006, Carbfix has been developing and perfecting the method. At the moment, there is no other firm anywhere in the world that can claim to have effectively sequestered carbon in this manner.
In July, the European Innovation Fund presented Carbfix with a grant. This grant would enable the company to construct a large-scale transportation and storage hub in Iceland. It was to be known as the Coda Terminal. In 2026, operations are scheduled to begin, and by 2031, an annual capacity of up to 3 million tons of CO2 will have been achieved.
This is a really lofty goal. At the moment, Carbfix is able to sequester between 24,000 and 28,000 tons annually. In a similar vein, Climeworks still has more ground to cover before it can be considered a significant player in the fight against global warming and achieve scale.
Orcas’ capabilities in decarbonization
Orcas have the ability to remove around 4,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. When finished in 2024, a second, bigger plant called Mammoth that is presently under construction will have captured 36,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Still, it is a small amount compared to the billions that will be needed to reach a net-zero future.
According to Hausfather, “My basic theoristic understanding is that we most likely want to seek to cut CO2 emissions by 90 percent and have removals make up the final 10 percent.” This amounts to around four gigatonnes on a worldwide scale at the moment.
In order to achieve size and influence, it is essential to establish a large number of additional plants all over the world. Companies such as Climeworks and Carbfix continue to be among the leaders.
Despite the fact that around 80% of ventures are unsuccessful, hundreds of new businesses are launched every year, which raises the issue of what exactly is holding the sector back.
The cost is one of the difficulties associated with DAC. This is due, in part, to the vast quantities of air that must be breathed in before even a small quantity of CO2 can be absorbed. The price of a tonne of carbon credits for the elimination of Climeworks emissions is now close to $1,000.
According to Haertel, by the year 2030, this might fall to $300–$400. Creating prototypes is usually a time-consuming and expensive process.
Use of energy is also a crucial factor.
Both Climeworks and Carbfix use the geothermal energy that is available in the area. Iceland is a fantastic site since it has a wealth of renewable energy sources and volcanic rock.
However, many nations still have much of their potential unrealized. According to Peter Taylor, who is the co-director of the UK Energy Research Centre, the disused oil and gas wells in the North Sea make the United Kingdom one of the greatest geological sites for the storage of carbon.
There has even been speculation about the possibility of the United Kingdom becoming an importer of CO2 from other countries.
The adoption of policies that are favorable is essential to the growth of the sector. In this regard, the United States of America is in the lead. An infrastructure law that was approved the previous year includes $3.5 billion for the construction of four DAC hubs, each of which will remove 1 million tons of CO2 per year.
The supply chains that are necessary for the industry’s growth are now being developed in the UK. A commission is in the process of assigning a number of “Track-1” carbon capture, utilization and storage clusters at this time.
“That involves work on the technology, but it also includes work on hazards, on understanding environmental challenges, on commercial models, and on what kind of governmental support is required,” adds Taylor. “That effort encompasses not only the technology.”
Another indication that things are starting to move in the sector are the star-studded collaborations. Already on board as partners with Climeworks are companies such as Audi, Shopify, and the Boston Consulting Group. A ten-year agreement that was made with Microsoft the previous month had the goal of offsetting 10,000 tons of the software giant’s emissions.
Is there finally some movement being seen in the sector? After observing a change over the previous several years marked by rises in interest and investment, Hausfather is of the opinion that this is the case.
However, there is still a long way to go before carbon removal and storage can begin to play the crucial role that it will need to play in the fight against climate change.
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