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Climeworks joins project to trap carbon dioxide in rocks

Team launches first plant to capture ambient CO2 for permanent storage

by Tien Nguyen
October 12, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 41

Scenery at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant where direct air capture and carbon sequestration takes place.
Credit: Courtesy of Climeworks

The Swiss company Climeworks has launched a pilot plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland, that can capture carbon dioxide directly from the air to be pumped into underground rock formations, effectively locking the greenhouse gas away for good.

Installed on the grounds of a geothermal power plant, the new direct air capture plant joins a project called CarbFix2, led by Reykjavik Energy and funded partly by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

CarbFix2 is an extension of the decade-old CarbFix project, which has injected 18,000 metric tons of CO2 dissolved in large amounts of water deep into the surrounding basalt-rich rock. The dissolved CO2 reacts with basalt to form solid carbonate mineral, a transformation that occurs relatively quickly, according to a 2016 study by CarbFix researchers.

Credit: Zev Starr-Tambor

Climeworks’ pilot plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland, can capture an estimated 50 metric tons of carbon dioxide from its surroundings per year.
Direct air capture module at Hellisheidi geothermal power plant
Credit: Zev Starr-Tambor

Climeworks’ pilot plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland, can capture an estimated 50 metric tons of carbon dioxide from its surroundings per year.

Previously, the CarbFix project sequestered waste CO2 from the neighboring geothermal power plant, which releases about 3% of the CO2 emitted by a fossil-fuel plant, according to CarbFix project leader Edda Sif Aradóttir. In the new partnership, the Climeworks facility will capture CO2 straight from the air. It will rely on the geothermal power plant for low-grade heat to release the captured CO2 from its absorbent filters.

In May, Climeworks opened the first commercial direct air capture plant in Hinwil, Switzerland, where captured CO2 is fed to an adjoining greenhouse to fertilize vegetables. A nearby waste incineration plant provides the necessary heat.

Coupling Climeworks’ direct air capture technology with carbon sequestration is exciting because it could potentially produce negative emissions, meaning the permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, says Giana Amador, managing director of the nonprofit Center for Carbon Removal. Climate experts agree that along with drastic emissions reductions, negative emissions are necessary to meet international goals to mitigate climate change, she says.

Other CarbFix2 project partners include the University of Iceland, the French National Center for Scientific Research, and the Spanish environmental consulting company Amphos 21.



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