Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Climeworks Orca facility. Image credit: Climeworks

Climate Change

Climeworks Direct Carbon Capture Facility Goes Live In Iceland

Climeworks’ first carbon capture prototype starts operating in Iceland.

The Earth has too much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, which leads directly to a warmer climate. The solution seems easy enough — take some of that carbon dioxide out of the air and put it someplace where it can’t harm the environment. Of course, there is another solution — stop treating the Earth as a cesspool, but that’s a non-starter because the global economy depends on being able to pollute without any limitations. Plastics, fertilizers, carbon emissions — piffle. Can’t disrupt the economy to avoid our own extinction now, can we? So rather than doing the hard work of lowering emissions, we focus instead on ways to undo the damage after it has already been done. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but arguably not the best way to deal with the problem.

Enter Climeworks, a Swiss startup that proposes to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using an array of boxes the size of shipping containers. Mount some standard industrial fans in them to force air through special filters that capture carbon dioxide, rinse the filters with hot water to remove the CO2, then pump the resulting slurry deep underground where it will eventually harden into rock.

Its first test facility, called Orca, is now operational on a lava flow in southwest Iceland. To most of us, “orca” is another name for a killer whale, but it is phonetically identical to the Icelandic word for energy. The installation began operating on September 8th and is expected to capture 4000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually at a cost of around $800 a ton. Scientists say we will need to remove a billion metric tons of the stuff every year to prevent a climate catastrophe.

This may seem like an expensive drop in the ocean, but let’s look at it this way. 15 years ago, getting electricity from solar panels was wildly expensive too, but today the President of the United States is proposing a plan that would source nearly half of America’s electricity from solar panels. A lot can happen in a decade or so and carbon capture doesn’t have quite the scary side effects associated with more drastic measures like geoengineering. It may not work, but at least it won’t make things worse.

Clmeworks Orca Iceland. Image credit: Climeworks

“This is a market that does not yet exist, but a market that urgently needs to be built,” Christoph Gebald, co-founder and co-director of Climeworks, tells the Washington Post. “This plant that we have here is really the blueprint to further scale up and really industrialize.” He says the technology needs to cost under $150 per ton in order to be profitable without government subsidies but claims the subsidies California currently offers to EV purchasers are equivalent to $450 for every ton of carbon dioxide they prevent from going into the atmosphere.

The current costs reflect both the handbuilt nature of the technology and also the large amounts of energy needed to power the CO2 capture process. One of the reasons Iceland was selected for the company’s first prototype installation is the availability of abundant geothermal energy. Another is the land near near the facility is ideal for the underground sequestration process, which will be managed by Carbfix. For more on sequestration, see the video below.

Gebald thinks prices for the Climework technology will get cheaper. By 2030, he expects prices around $200 to $300 per ton. By the late 2030s, he says they will be half that, which will make the process a competitive method of reducing global emissions.

“That’s really the main problem, whether you can make it cheap enough. And there’s reason to believe that it could be possible,” Stephen Pacala, director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University, tells the Washington Post. If the technology were to cost $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide and the aviation industry paid to offset the emissions from its aviation fuel, it would increase the cost of fuel by about $1 a gallon, well within the range of seasonal price fluctuations, he said, adding it “could be a big deal. It could be a really big business. ”

Yes it could, and we support any and all measures designed to keep humans from dying in massive numbers as the world warms. The problem is, the Earth won’t wait while the technology matures. People who get a gleam in their eye about what wonders await us in 20, 30, or 40 years pretty much miss the point. The latest IPCC report makes it crystal clear that we have run out of time. We have to slash carbon emissions now, not somewhere down the road.

We wish Christoph Gebald and Climeworks well. We really do. But the big concern is that trumpeting the news about such pie in the sky possibilities gives the fossil fuel crowd more ammunition to say, “See? There’s nothing to worry about, folks. Everything will be fine. We can burn every molecule of coal, oil, and unnatural gas we can find and somebody else will clean up our mess. We’re going to find a way to science our way out of this. Go back to sleep.”

Someday in the not too distant future, a whole lot of us — billions of people — are going to wake up dead if we continue using the Earth as a communal toilet for our waste products. That’s the part that should concern us, but our political leaders seem incapable of comprehending that simple, basic truth. By the time Climeworks aligns its business model with the strictures of capitalism, it will be too late. And you can take that to the bank.

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Electrifying Industrial Heat for Steel, Cement, & More

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


You May Also Like

Climate Change

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted more than 2,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (A gigaton is one billion metric tons.)...


An interview with Hannes Junginger, CEO of Carbonfuture, on how to achieve a gigaton-scale carbon removal market Can you give a simple explanation of...

Clean Power

Fervo Energy will build a direct air capture demonstration plant to test its geothermal and carbon removal technology.

Climate Change

A number of organizations have charted a path to a decarbonized world by 2050 and broken down required action into four areas or “pathways.”...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.