climate change

World’s largest direct air CO2 capture plant opens

The Orca direct air carbon capture plant. Photo credit: Climeworks.

By Anders Lorenzen

Swiss company Climeworks has opened the world’s largest plant that will directly capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Named Orca, the plant is based in Iceland so that it can tap into the island’s geothermal renewable energy sources. 

Climeworks says that Orca is the world’s first and largest climate-positive direct air carbon capture and storage plant. The plant has the capacity to safely remove 4,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year and store it permanently through the Carbfix natural mineralisation process. The company hailed Orca as a stepping stone for megaton CO2 removal capacity in the second part of this decade, based on its leading and scalable direct air capture technology.

The plant

Construction on the plant started in May 2020 and its design is based on advanced modular technology in the form of innovative stackable container-size collector units. These units are powerful and compact, with a minimal physical footprint. All this has made it possible for Orca to be operational in under 15 months, much faster compared to previous technology as the use of steel in the collector units has been reduced by roughly half per output unit. Climeworks say they have been able to intensify the process leading to increased CO2 capture capacity per module meaning that more carbon dioxide can be captured and stored than ever before. Orca is strategically located adjacent to ON Power’s Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant and runs fully on renewable energy.

Expansion

Climeworks say that there is a big opportunity for global expansion, as the technology can easily be replicated at different locations worldwide and at an ever-larger scale wherever ample renewable energy and storage conditions are available. Climeworks explain this innovation in plant design is a key enabler to rapidly scale up this much-needed climate technology in years to come. As Orca is now a reality and in operation, Climeworks is on track to ramp up its capture capacity significantly and its concept has already attracted a lot of interest through long-term partnerships with big global players such as Microsoft, Swiss Re, Shopify and commitments from over 8,000 private individuals. 

Partnerships with ON Power which is the Icelandic geothermal energy provider and Carbfix who are experts in underground mineralisation and mix the air-captured CO2 with water and pump it down underground for storage was critical for the Iceland plant to be a reality.

Christoph Gebald, co-CEO and co-founder of Climeworks said: “We are proud, excited, and beyond delighted to have arrived at this stage in our journey to reverse climate change. Orca is now a reality, and it is a result of concerted efforts from every stakeholder involved. I want to take this opportunity to convey my gratitude and appreciation to the Government of Iceland, our partners in Iceland, our trusted investors, our corporate clients and pioneers, partners, the media, and our team of Climeworkers in making Orca a reality.’’  

Globally the world emitted an estimated 34 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020 so 4,000 tonnes is a tiny fraction of that. But climate advocates are hoping that it could be scaled up to such an extent that direct air capture could be seen as a serious emission reduction technology alongside low-carbon energy technologies.

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