Construction at world’s biggest CO2 capture plant begins, Iceland

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Construction has begun at the world’s first large-scale CO2 capture and storage plant in Iceland that will be the biggest CO2 plant. The plant, named Orca, will use fans to suck in air and filter out some 90% of its CO2, which is turned into carbonate minerals for storage underground. Climeworks, the company developing the plant make the CO2 collectors; Carbfix, which owns the CO2 mineralizing technology; and Iceland’s ON Power, which will power the plant with geothermal energy. The plant is expected to be completed and running by spring of 2021.

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The technology incorporated in the plant for the gas capture, Direct Air Capture (DAC) is an offshoot of carbon capture and storage, whereby pollution from factories and power plants is trapped and stored underground. DAC takes that one step further, focusing on pulling the gas directly from the air. That is a tougher ask because CO2 in our air is at much lower concentrations than in the flue gases of a power plant. But if DAC technology can scale, it could give humankind the power to control global pollution levels. However, there are signs that a breakthrough might be close. Swiss firm Climeworks has built a handful of DAC plants across Europe.

DAC, unfortunately, is not a cheap option for gas capture,  “The fact is, it is going to be easier to decarbonize a lot of industrial processes than it is to build an entire sector from a standing start,” says Dr.Mark Workman, a carbon storage expert at Imperial College London. DAC will be a crucial tool for fighting climate change. Most scientists agree we can’t keep temperatures under 1.5C without it. But it will not be a silver bullet for our planetary problems, not least because we don’t yet know how to pay the bill.