On Wednesday, Reykjavik Energy’s Edda Aradóttir was proud to announce the first negative emissions plant in the world. Located at the Hellisheidi Power Plant, the CarbFix2 project captures CO2 directly from ambient air. It then dissolves it in water and then pumps it into an injection site near the facility, where the CO2 reacts with basaltic bedrock, forming solid carbonate minerals. Not only does the project put a dent in global warming, it can also provide eco-friendly construction materials.

The DAC module installed in Iceland. Credit: Climeworks.

The DAC module installed in Iceland. Credit: Climeworks.

CO2 mineralization is already a proven concept. Last year, researchers involved with CarbFix published a paper reporting that “between 95 and 98 percent of the injected CO2 was mineralized over a period of less than two years, which is amazingly fast.”

Up until now, volcanic CO2 was captured from hot water tapped at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant and then injected back into the Icelandic basalt from which it emanated. Now, CarbFix 2 is taking carbon sequestration to the next level by capturing CO2 directly from the ambient air. Essentially, this plant generates negative emissions.

Ultimately, any CO2 that you inject underground turns into carbonate minerals. Usually, though, this process takes hundreds to thousands of years. The key to rapid mineralization of carbon is basalt – a volcanic rock which Iceland has an abundance of. Iceland is actually mostly made up of basalt (90%). To make things even better, the rock is also rich in calcium, magnesium, and iron – the other key elements for carbon mineralization.

Credit: CarbFix.

Credit: CarbFix.

Elsewhere, in Switzerland, another company called Climeworks opened its own ambient air carbon capture plant last year. Climeworks joined efforts with CarbFix for the current project where so far one direct air capture (DAC) module was installed.

“The potential of scaling-up our technology in combination with CO2 storage, is enormous,” founder and CEO of Climeworks, Christoph Gebald said.

Even so, these amazing carbon capture technologies can’t solve our global warming — not at the rate we’re spewing CO2 anyway. The gas has a concentration of 0.04 percent in the ambient air on average which makes capturing it rather tedious. The plant will only capture 900 tonnes by the end of 2017, which is about as 55 American homes emit in a year. Every ton costs $600 after all expenses are factored in. Even if it were cheap, not all countries can take advantage of the tech since a rich-basalt underground is crucial. Still, basalt can be found in abundance in many parts of the world, making the technology potentially scalable.

The real solution to man-made climate change is the immediate phasing of fossil fuels in favor of clean renewable energy. Things have gotten way too hot in the past decade, though, so every innovative project is more than welcomed. What’s today only an experiment could become a lifeline in the not so distant future.

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