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Factories to capture carbon: an opportunity to combat climate change

On September 8, the world's largest CO2 capture and storage plant was inaugurated in Iceland. Its name is Orca and the launch of this Factory that captures carbon gives a boost to the fight against climate change.

Carbon capture plant

The plant is made up of a modular system of 8 collectors that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through filters and fans. Photo: Climeworks

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramirez Ramos

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Leer en español: Plantas para capturar carbono: una oportunidad para combatir el cambio climático

Orca is located in the Hellisheidi Geothermal Park, in southwestern Iceland. The plant is made up of a modular system of 8 collectors that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through filters and fans. Afterwards, they mix it with water and then expel it deep down, where it is trapped in rocks through a mineralization process.

“The underground basalt rock formations in Iceland provide ideal conditions for this process, offering a permanent solution for CO2 storage. The energy required to carry out the direct air capture process comes from purely renewable resources”, indicates Climeworks, the company that created this plant.

In 2017, Climeworks launched a pilot test to process 50 tons of carbon dioxide. Three years later, this Swiss-based company entered into an alliance with ON Power, Iceland's geothermal energy provider, and Carbfix, an academic-industrial association that has specialized in the development of technologies to capture CO2. With this union, an increase in the elimination of carbon dioxide was guaranteed to 4,000 tons per year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of about 790 cars.

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Today, Climeworks has alliances with Microsoft, Swiss Re, Shopify and more than 8,000 individuals to expand this type of technologies for the elimination of carbon dioxide in the air. The rapid scaling of this initiative and the design of the plant allow it to be replicated in various factories of the world. The challenge will be to adapt it to the physical conditions of the environment.

A solution for the future?

Despite the fact that better than eliminating carbon dioxide is avoiding its emissions, the scientific community has agreed that the reduction is not enough to achieve the objectives in the fight against climate change. In addition, it is necessary, and urgent, to eliminate carbon dioxide from the environment permanently. That is why initiatives such as Orca represent hope in the fight against greenhouse gas pollution and its imminent consequences such as rising sea levels, fires, floods and changes in the climate.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which belongs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has indicated that after the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, CO2 emissions will rise to record levels. In this regard, the IEA has set the goal for governments to implement measures to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

This agency has indicated that there are currently 15 direct air capture plants and that it is a key option for the elimination of carbon in the world. Although the CO2 that is extracted from the air can be used in the production of fuels, chemical compounds or products that contain carbon, the system that Orca uses is very efficient because CO2 is completely eliminated from the atmosphere and as a result there are negative emissions.

"In a transition to zero net emissions, the CO2 used to produce synthetic fuels would increasingly need to be captured from bioenergy sources or from the atmosphere to avoid delayed emissions of CO2 of fossil origin when the fuel is burned," says IEA. One of the biggest challenges that this model would have to replicate in other parts of the world is that its operation is driven by renewable energies such as solar, wind or geothermal, thus reducing operating costs and energy consumption being clean.

The next United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 will be held in November in Glasgow, UK. At this event, it is expected that the financing plan will be presented to support the development of clean technologies that allow adaptation to climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.