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ORCA, THE NEW SMART WAY TO TRAP CO2 BY CLIMEWORKS

On September 8th 2021, Climeworks, a Swiss engineering start-up, opened its first Direct Air Capture plant. Orca, which has the same sound as the Icelandic word for “energy”, is located in the Hellisheidi geothermal park, near the capital Reykjavik, and it is powered by the energy produced by the local geothermal plant.

The idea behind the project is based on the capability of pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to help to solve the serious and current problem of global warming.  It is a very appealing concept and it has never been implemented on a large scale before.

What is it?

The plant finds its essence in the Direct Air Capture technology, which is one of the newest ways of removing CO2 from the air and store it for thousands of years.

It was built in a few months, starting from December 2020, and it was inspired by one of their previous projects installed in Iceland in 2017: it consists of four suction systems, connected to eight containers, which allow the capture of carbon dioxide present in the air, which can then be destined for various uses.

It is also one of the more novel ways to generate offsets, which are credits for removing CO2 from the air (or reducing emissions) that are bought by companies and individuals seeking to lessen their environmental footprint.

 This plant is nearly five times bigger than the biggest plant that is currently active. The ORCA plant will capture about 4,000 tonnes per year of CO2, this quantity can be compared to the emission level of carbon dioxide of a small city in the US. Clearly, it represents a small step forward in this field, but it’s still a long way from pulling the billions of tonnes per year that would be needed to balance out emissions on the planet.

How does the Direct Air Capture technology work?

Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology does exactly what plants do but much faster: it sucks in the air, extracts the carbon dioxide through some chemical reactions, and returns the rest to the environment, lastly, it will store carbon dioxide permanently underground through the Carbfix natural mineralization process.

Each system of Direct Air Capture is characterized by fans about one meter high which, to simplify, suck the air from the outside and convey it towards a particular absorbent substance, made up of microscopic granules, to which CO2 binds by chemical reaction. This filter is then heated to release carbon dioxide, which is added to water and pumped into the subsoil, where cooling is petrified through a chemical process and remains safe. The only main issue this plant has is that in general air is composed only by 0.04% of CO2, therefore you need to have a lot of air passing through ORCA. 

What about the immediate future?

Climeworks claims that they want to be able to pull millions of tonnes of CO2 a year by 2027. The potentials to grow are present and evident, but the only issue is that this process is the most expensive carbon offset in the world: the start-up charges € 1,000 per tonne of CO2.  “This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage. (…) So, I think the market will be limited by the extremely high price. It’s not economical at the moment, not economical yet at a really big scale. ” explains Wurzbacher, CEO, and founder of Climeworks.  

The goal of the company is to “reverse climate change” and contribute to achieve the so-called “carbon neutrality”, or at least to be able to remove a lot of CO2 as much as we emit into the atmosphere.

According to the recommendations of the International Energy Agency, in order to reach the carbon neutrality objectives and avoid disastrous consequences for the existence of man and thousands of animal and plant species, by 2050 it will be necessary – in addition to change the way where we produce energy, food, and many other things – to remove nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.

Christoph Gebald, one of the two founders and co-director of Climeworks, told the Washington Post that the ORCA is a starting point for “a market that doesn’t exist yet but needs to be built urgently.” Even the Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir underlines: “In fact, it is an important step to achieve zero emissions, necessary to manage the climate crisis.”

Some people think that focusing too much on DAC could be a moral hazard because there’s no time to wait for this technology to develop, the world needs to cut its emissions now by setting limits to the usage of fossil fuel. Luckily, since more companies are setting goals for net-zero emissions, they need to buy this specific type of technology, that is why this global market is expected to grow even further. 

RELATED

ORCA, THE NEW SMART WAY TO TRAP CO2 BY CLIMEWORKS

On September 8th 2021, Climeworks, a Swiss engineering start-up, opened its first Direct Air Capture plant. Orca, which has the same sound as the Icelandic word for “energy”, is located in the Hellisheidi geothermal park, near the capital Reykjavik, and it is powered by the energy produced by the local geothermal plant.

The idea behind the project is based on the capability of pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to help to solve the serious and current problem of global warming.  It is a very appealing concept and it has never been implemented on a large scale before.

What is it?

The plant finds its essence in the Direct Air Capture technology, which is one of the newest ways of removing CO2 from the air and store it for thousands of years.

It was built in a few months, starting from December 2020, and it was inspired by one of their previous projects installed in Iceland in 2017: it consists of four suction systems, connected to eight containers, which allow the capture of carbon dioxide present in the air, which can then be destined for various uses.

It is also one of the more novel ways to generate offsets, which are credits for removing CO2 from the air (or reducing emissions) that are bought by companies and individuals seeking to lessen their environmental footprint.

 This plant is nearly five times bigger than the biggest plant that is currently active. The ORCA plant will capture about 4,000 tonnes per year of CO2, this quantity can be compared to the emission level of carbon dioxide of a small city in the US. Clearly, it represents a small step forward in this field, but it’s still a long way from pulling the billions of tonnes per year that would be needed to balance out emissions on the planet.

How does the Direct Air Capture technology work?

Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology does exactly what plants do but much faster: it sucks in the air, extracts the carbon dioxide through some chemical reactions, and returns the rest to the environment, lastly, it will store carbon dioxide permanently underground through the Carbfix natural mineralization process.

Each system of Direct Air Capture is characterized by fans about one meter high which, to simplify, suck the air from the outside and convey it towards a particular absorbent substance, made up of microscopic granules, to which CO2 binds by chemical reaction. This filter is then heated to release carbon dioxide, which is added to water and pumped into the subsoil, where cooling is petrified through a chemical process and remains safe. The only main issue this plant has is that in general air is composed only by 0.04% of CO2, therefore you need to have a lot of air passing through ORCA. 

What about the immediate future?

Climeworks claims that they want to be able to pull millions of tonnes of CO2 a year by 2027. The potentials to grow are present and evident, but the only issue is that this process is the most expensive carbon offset in the world: the start-up charges € 1,000 per tonne of CO2.  “This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage. (…) So, I think the market will be limited by the extremely high price. It’s not economical at the moment, not economical yet at a really big scale. ” explains Wurzbacher, CEO, and founder of Climeworks.  

The goal of the company is to “reverse climate change” and contribute to achieve the so-called “carbon neutrality”, or at least to be able to remove a lot of CO2 as much as we emit into the atmosphere.

According to the recommendations of the International Energy Agency, in order to reach the carbon neutrality objectives and avoid disastrous consequences for the existence of man and thousands of animal and plant species, by 2050 it will be necessary – in addition to change the way where we produce energy, food, and many other things – to remove nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.

Christoph Gebald, one of the two founders and co-director of Climeworks, told the Washington Post that the ORCA is a starting point for “a market that doesn’t exist yet but needs to be built urgently.” Even the Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir underlines: “In fact, it is an important step to achieve zero emissions, necessary to manage the climate crisis.”

Some people think that focusing too much on DAC could be a moral hazard because there’s no time to wait for this technology to develop, the world needs to cut its emissions now by setting limits to the usage of fossil fuel. Luckily, since more companies are setting goals for net-zero emissions, they need to buy this specific type of technology, that is why this global market is expected to grow even further. 

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