Add another milestone to 2017 for the world of negative carbon emissions. The decade old CarbFix project at the Hellisheidi geothermal plant has given birth to CarbFix2. This demonstration project integrates the world’s first direct air capture plant to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in minerals. The overall project is a collaboration between Climeworks, Rekjavic Energy, and a number of international universities and relevant partners. Climeworks has installed one module (pictured above) which captures around 1/3 a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day and then injects it underground in a process that has converted 95% of the carbon dioxide into basalt rock on the 1-2 year time scale.
This is a big deal for those in the world of carbon removal, but is also important for anyone who thinks about reversing climate change. Here’s why:
- These types of demonstration projects set the upper limit for a theoretical technical fix. By extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere and storing it in a mineral that exists in abundance, CarbFix2 proves that negative emissions via direct air capture are possible. This sets the upper limit of a climate backstop that can scale limitlessly and also demonstrate permanent CO2 storage. Unlike land based approaches to bio-sequester carbon which might be less expensive, but need to be monitored to ensure the carbon is still there, this creates a permanent sink. Once you have paid for it, you don’t need to go back and check that the carbon has been removed from the atmosphere. You can be certain that it is stored permanently as rock.
- The project is in a place where capturing CO2 from air is more favorable than from getting it from burning fossil fuels. Because the energy is supplied from geothermal sources it is already fossil free and renewable. Furthermore the Climeworks technology requires heat, and in this location is able to take advantage of the free geothermal heat.
- It is an ideal project to see how a science experiment can multiply more easily. So far the project only has one unit. However it is not difficult to add additional units and take advantage of modularization to scale up. When I was at the Climeworks plant opening in Switzerland they announced that they were on track to building 7,500 units this year (which will also be used for providing CO2 to greenhouse and to make fuels). This modular approach enables a significantly simpler proliferation of units with a much lower capital expenditure – in the millions relative to the billions required for funding larger first of a kind industrial plants.
- It establishes a more accurate cost curve. Previous skeptics to direct air capture have claimed that costs could come down no lower than $600 per ton (American Physical Society Report 2011). This project will give data to provide more accurate estimations at least below $200 per ton.
- It sets a baseline for one method to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climeworks is the first of the direct air capture start-up companies to advance out of the gate, but is certainly not the only method to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Global Thermostat, for instance, has a patented technology which uses a monolith contactor also regenerated by heat, have claimed costs lower than $50/ton by the millionth ton captured.
This is the type of research that needs more money. And that’s why we’re building a market mechanism that will inspire entrepreneurs and companies willing to take a risk to get paid to deploy this, and any other way to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Also published on Medium.