World’s Biggest Factory to Suck Carbon from the Sky and Store it For Millions of Years Turns on in Iceland
The “world’s largest” factory built solely for the purpose of drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it, has just come online in Iceland.
Built in the geothermal park in Hellisheidi, the company hopes this is merely a stepping stone necessary to scale up the model by a factor of 80, and thereby remove millions of tons of CO2 by the end of the decade.
As direct a climate solution as there could be, the Orca factory, just one of a number of climate change solutions offered by the Icelandic firm Carbfix, takes CO2 from the air before separating the carbon from the oxygen, mixing it with water and sending it deep underground into basalt rock formations where it mineralizes.
With 16 locations recycling CO2, Climeworks, the Swiss company which provided Orca with the CO2 intake fans, are extremely excited to have participated in a project that will permanently remove carbon, rather than just recycling it. They say the green technology can be reproduced easily, and to scale, anywhere there is renewable energy and storage available. Orca was built adjacent to a local geothermal power plant, so it runs fully on renewable energy.
The company says it can pull 4,000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year, the equivalent of taking 870 cars off the road. On its own, it’s a small impact for the $10-15 million it takes to build, but as companies are increasingly pressured to provide carbon offsets for their operations, the technology offers a huge appeal if costs come down and production is boosted.
For example, offsetting emissions by planting trees is great, but it takes 50 years for a tree to gather enough CO2 to actually sequester it. If the tree dies before that period, it’s as if the company did nothing.
A Canadian company, Carbon Engineering, which has received $25 million in funding from the government, is building a technology that directly captures CO2 from the air and stores it as compressed gas, or creates a near-carbon-neutral fuel.
They are currently building what they call the world’s largest direct air capture plant in the southwestern US that, when operational, will remove more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, about the same as 40 million mature trees.
But for Carbfix, knowing the carbon is stored in the form of igneous or metamorphic rocks deep underground where it won’t emerge for hundreds of millions of years is the most verifiable way of demonstrating their commitment to addressing the climate crisis.