On September the 8th of 2021, the world’s largest air capture and storage plant, named Orca, was launched just outside Reykjavik in Iceland, making for a milestone in the infant ‘direct air capture’ industry.

This carbon-capture plant has the capacity to remove 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. This roughly equates to the emissions from 870 cars or the consumption of 9,281 barrels of oil, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas calculator. Strategically located adjacent to Icelandic energy company ON Power’s geothermal power plant, Orca entirely runs on this renewable energy.

Having developed chemical filters, the air that passes through the plant is filtered from its CO2. When sealed underground, this captured CO2 counts as ‘negative emissions’ – an essential but still underdeveloped method for tackling global warming. To reach the goals set by the Paris climate agreement, billions of tonnes of CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere in the second half of this century. As the only current mean of reaching this goal is planting trees, this new method offers new hope for reaching these goals.

Once these sealed CO2 emissions are heated underground, they are released again and generate a stream of gas that is handed to another firm, which mixes the gas with water and pumps this into the Icelandic bedrock, permanently removing it from the atmosphere and at the same time stimulating the natural process of forming calcium carbonate – the main ingredient for limestone. Simply said, the Orca plant extracts CO2 from air and turns it into rock.

It costs Orca somewhere between €500-700 to filter one tonne of carbon dioxide. Offset packages are sold for around €1000, as the company is convinced economies of scale will lead to a ten-fold cut of costs. Gladly, there appears to be no shortage of customers willing to pay the current price.

Orca is a project by the Swiss Climeworks in collaboration with Icelandic firm Carbfix. According to Climeworks, Orca is “world’s first and largest climate-positive direct air capture and storage plant”, making the capture of atmosperic carbon on an industrial scale a reality.

With the successful launch of the Orca plant, Climeworks has taken a significant step closer to achieving their goal of global net-zero emissions. Although there is still a long way to go, the company prepares to rapidly ramp up their capacity in the next years.


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