The World's Largest Carbon Capture Plant Stores Carbon Dioxide in Rocks

What began as a collaborative study published in 2016 on carbon capture techniques has officially transformed into the world's largest operational carbon dioxide capture facility.

The World's Largest Carbon Capture Plant Stores Carbon Dioxide in Rocks

Scientists from Iceland, Denmark, Australia, France, the US, and the UK jointly conducted the study to analyze the efficacy of carbon capture storage via subsurface basaltic rocks. Their goal was to determine how long the storage process would take for maximum sequestration.

The 2016 study findings contradicted results from an earlier study. The older study found it would take up to 1000 years for 95% of total anthropogenic CO2 injection.

The newer study suggested they could reach this outcome in just two years utilizing a similar method. The contradictory findings have since resulted in a more viable option for carbon capture techniques in basaltic-dense locations.

A Process Sealed in Stone

The project, located in Hellisheidi, Iceland, is named the Orca Plant after the Icelandic word for energy, 'orka,' and pays homage to its location's history and passion for sustainable development.

The Orca plant was prompted by Icelandic and Swiss startup companies, CarbFix and Climeworks AG. The project combined the knowledge and research from these two companies, resulting in a truly unique and monumental facility.

The structure incorporates eight collector containers, a central processing hall that allows remote operating, and geothermal powered heating and electricity fueled by the local Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant. To top it off, the concept was designed with the surroundings in mind, incorporating earthy colors and natural materials for seamless integration into the natural environment.

When operating at total capacity, the Orca is estimated to have the ability to capture up to 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide on an annual basis, equal to the CO2 emissions from roughly 900 cars.

Though impressive, this number is merely a sliver of the total global emissions. NASA estimates that in 2014 alone, nearly 35 billion tons of CO2 was released into the atmosphere, a staggering increase from the 1960s numbers of 9 billion tons.

On the bright side, many current and upcoming carbon capture facilities are working together to help mitigate these numbers. As of 2020, an estimated total of just over 30 million tons of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere annually, equal to removing 6.5 million passenger vehicles from the road. This doesn't even include the naturally occurring sequestration resulting from trees, whales, plankton, and others.

A few challenges come with the achievement - namely cost, basaltic rock supply, and high water usage. Climeworks is actively working with all three of these discrepancies to develop mitigative solutions before they become a significant issue.

That said, it's still a noteworthy accomplishment and one of the many examples of ingenuity and sustainable design.

The Orca facility began operations on September 8, 2021, and has thus far shown to be functional and effective. As the facility gains more run time, researchers and engineers will get a better idea of the scope of long-term operations and be able to streamline processes.

Carbon Capture and Its Potential

Carbon capture is defined as the process in which various techniques are utilized to gather and permanently store atmospheric carbon. Storage options are diverse and range from seashells to extensive facilities such as the Orca and everything in between.

Though the term 'carbon capture' traditionally referred to capturing carbon directly from power plants before or after fossil fuels were burned, the term has recently evolved to include capturing atmospheric emissions.

The carbon capture process has gained significant notoriety within the past decade as a viable resource in the fight to curb atmospheric emissions. Though it alone cannot reverse climate change, it undoubtedly has an impact.

For example, in a perfect world, society would run off efficient alternative energy and have significant sustainable development. But there would still be problematic atmospheric emissions. Carbon capture provides the potential to remove excess emissions and work alongside alternative energy facilities to phase out fossil fuels and emissions effectively.

Similar to the challenges that alternative energy methods face, carbon capture systems also face barriers with cost. This is due predominately to a lack of widespread funding, research, and technological advancements. However, if carbon capture continues to grow in popularity, the cost is forecasted to decrease to more affordable rates.

Meanwhile, facilities such as the Orca illustrate an idealistic outcome for climate change remediation designs. This concept can also potentially inspire similar adaptations around the globe, particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where, like Iceland, basaltic rock is abundant.


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