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Turning carbon dioxide into rock – forever

Geothermal energy generation at Hellisheidi

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G Svanberg

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Harnessing the facility of the volcanoes: Hellisheidi is Iceland’s greatest geothermal plant

Nested within the snow-covered mountains of western Iceland, a maze of generators and pipes belches thick billows of steam. This mammoth construction is accountable for offering energy to a rustic the place 100% of the electrical energy comes from renewable assets.

The Hellisheidi energy station, 25km (15 miles) out of doors Reykjavik, is Iceland’s major geothermal plant, and is likely one of the greatest on this planet.

“Do you’re feeling the vibrations underneath us?”, says Edda Sif Aradottir, the plant’s supervisor, splashing snow as she stomps her boot at the flooring. “It is the steam getting into the generators”.

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“It is a volcanic house. We harness the volcano’s interior warmth to generate electrical energy and supply scorching water for town’s heating device, our swimming swimming pools and showers. We Icelanders like our showers actually scorching!”

Hellisheidi isn’t just an completed supplier of inexperienced power. Additionally it is the web site for a systematic leap forward; an experiment to seize carbon dioxide (CO2) and switch it into stone – eternally.

Thus conserving this greenhouse fuel out of the ambience and placing a dent in international warming.

We’ve already reached the tipping level for CO2 ranges within the setting and excessive occasions will occur if we do not act temporarily and observe each resolution to be had” ____________

Edda Sif Aradóttir, CarbFix


“Mankind has been burning fossil fuels for the reason that business revolution and we’ve already reached the tipping level for CO2 ranges”, says Dr Aradottir. “This is likely one of the answers that may be implemented to opposite that”.

Known as CarbFix, the mission is pioneered by way of a world consortium led by way of Reykjavík Power, the French Nationwide Centre for Medical Analysis, the College of Iceland and Columbia College.

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In November Hellisheidi hit a significant milestone, it hosted the sector’s first “detrimental emission” device, in a position to sucking CO2 from the ambience and storing it underground

Since experiments started in 2014, it is been scaled up from a pilot mission to an enduring resolution, cleansing up a 3rd of the plant’s carbon emissions.

“Extra importantly, we’re a trying out flooring for a technique that may be implemented in different places, be energy plant, heavy industries or every other CO2 emitting supply”, says Dr Aradottir.

Making soda

With emerging concentrations of atmospheric CO2, scientists had been trying out “carbon seize and garage” (CCS) answers for the reason that 1970s.

CarbFix, then again, sticks out amongst CCS experiments for the reason that seize of carbon is claimed to be everlasting – and rapid.

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Waste CO2 from the steam (I) is going to the fuel separation station (II) is diluted in water (III) piped to the injection web site (IIII) and pumped underground the place it mineralises into rock

The method begins with the seize of waste CO2 from the steam, which is then dissolved into massive volumes of water.

“We use a large soda-machine”, says Dr Aradottir as she issues to the fuel separation station, an business shed that stands at the back of the roaring generators.

“Necessarily, what occurs here’s very similar to the method for your kitchen, when you find yourself making your self some glowing water: we upload fizz to the water”.

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Within the injection web site, the CO2 is pumped underground at excessive power

The fizzy liquid is then piped to the injection web site – otherworldly, geometric igloo-shaped construction 2km away. There it’s pumped 1,000m (three,200feet) underneath the skin.

In an issue of months, chemical reactions will solidify the CO2 into rock – thus fighting it from escaping again into the ambience for thousands and thousands of years.

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Underground, the CO2 resolution comes into touch with basalt and becomes white, chalky calcites that fill the pores of the rock

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Earlier than and after: porous basalt (left) and basalt with mineralised CO2 inside of its pores

On this reputedly magic feat, native geology performs a key phase.

Porous rock

The breath-taking Icelandic panorama – with its scorching springs, geysers and black seashores – is principally manufactured from basalt, a dark-grey porous rock shaped from cooling of lava.

And basalt is “carbon’s easiest pal”, as it incorporates excessive quantities of calcium, magnesium and iron, which bind with the pumped CO2 to lend a hand it solidify right into a mineral.

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S Gislason

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The CO2 is blended with water, which has confirmed key to dashing up the solidification

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S Gislason

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The injection web site is within the neighborhood of the mammoth geothermal plant

Sandra Snaebjornsdottir, a geologist operating for CarbFix, has the proof in her arms: a cylindrical pattern drilled out from the web site displays a smattering of chalky crystals encrusted within the basalt.

“Those white bits are carbonates, or mineralised CO2”, she says. “Recent basalts are like sponges, with quite a lot of cavities which might be full of the CO2.

“Iceland is especially beneficial for this kind of CCS merely on account of the volume of basalt it has got”.

Closing 12 months, 10,000 tonnes of CO2 have been “digested” by way of CarbFix.

But that is tiny fraction – not up to the annual emissions of 650 Brits or 2,200 American vehicles.

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After the primary pilot, samples of rock have been drilled out from the bedrock to test whether or not the CO2 had solidified

And it turns into much more insignificant in opposition to the 30-40 gigatonnes of CO2 (a gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes) that fashionable people pour into the ambience yearly.

In spite of its reasonably small scale, professionals look ahead to CarbFix may well be simple to copy – because of the ubiquity of basalt world wide.

“Basalt is if truth be told the commonest rock sort on Earth, it covers lots of the oceanic flooring and round 10% of the continents. Anyplace there may be basalt and water, this style would paintings”, says Sandra Snaebjornsdottir.

Massive basaltic spaces are present in Siberia, Western India, Saudi Arabia and the Pacific Northwest.

And scientists at the moment are having a look at trying out the style at the oceans to profit from the massive spaces of submarine basalt formations.

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Sandra Snaebjornsdottir is answerable for trying out leads to CarbFix

Doubtlessly, basalt may remedy the entire international’s CO2 issues says Sandra: “The garage capability is such that, in concept, basalts may completely cling all of the bulk of CO2 emissions derived from burning all fossil gas on Earth.”

Very thirsty

On the College of Iceland, analysis round CarbFix has been proceeding since its pilot segment.

A desk-size reproduction of the pipes and pumps in Hellisheidi in a state of the art lab lets in Prof Sigurdur Gislason to scrutinize the method.

“Earlier than the injection began in CarbFix, the consensus inside the medical neighborhood used to be that it could take many years to 1000’s of years for the injected CO2 to mineralise”, says Prof Gislason explains.

“Then we came upon that it used to be already mineralised after 400 days”.

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Iceland’s capital Reykjavik runs on renewable energies, and is likely one of the greenest towns on this planet

Reactions have been so much sooner than expected partially on account of the massive quantities of water used to dissolve the CO2.

This then again issues to one of the crucial mission’s Achilles heels – it is extremely water extensive.

“It wishes over 25 tonnes of water according to tonne of CO2,” says Prof Gislason. “In Iceland we’re blessed with a variety of rain, however in case you are doing this at the basaltic spaces in India… their water could be very valuable”.

The bottleneck now could be law, we would possibly not remedy local weather alternate except CO2 emitters are required to pay a worth within the vary of 20 to 70 euros according to ton of CO2 emitted” ___________

Prof. Sigurdur Gíslason – Institute of Earth Sciences, College of Iceland


Some critics warn high-tech fixes corresponding to this one pose a larger possibility – that of distracting researchers and the general public from the urgent want significantly to scale back greenhouse gases ranges.

In a up to date document, the Eu Academies Science Advisory Council warned that such applied sciences have “restricted practical possible” if emissions don’t seem to be lowered.

“CarbFix isn’t a silver bullet. We need to reduce emissions and increase renewable energies, and we need to do CCS too,” says Prof Gislason.

We need to alternate the best way we are living, which has proved very onerous for other people to know.”

A part of our sequence Taking the Temperature, which specializes in the struggle in opposition to local weather alternate and the folk and concepts creating a distinction.

This BBC sequence used to be produced with investment from the Skoll Basis

Illustrations by way of Jilla Dastmalchi

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