The world’s largest direct air capture (DAC) facility has been launched in Iceland. It is undoubtedly an important step in the carbon dioxide concentration reduction technology, but at the same time, it may raise various questions about how this technology will be carried out in the future.
The new facility, Orca, removes carbon dioxide from the air through a giant suction device located 30 kilometers southeast of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. According to Swiss company Climbworks, which owns and operates Orca, the Orca can remove 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year using the thermal energy of water.
Climbworks partnered with a carbon storage company to store the recovered carbon dioxide deep underground, but after two years, the carbon dioxide turns into stone. Most other carbon dioxide recovery technologies are primarily designed to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the air, and are often installed in fossil fuel facilities.
On the other hand, DAC facilities such as Orca can eliminate the risk factors in the world now, which is a big difference. If DAC facilities are spread all over the world, it is possible to at least negatively emit carbon dioxide at the desk. Although this technology is not yet digested enough to be deployed on a large scale, the Intergovernmental Panel IPCC is an important technology to keep global warming within the 2 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement. One expert said that this is a big first step towards recovering carbon dioxide that has already been generated and safely storing it permanently. This technology will be an important complementary technology for reducing emissions towards climate stabilization, and while Orca is still small compared to this direction, it is an important step in the right direction. say it is in
Carbon capture, including DAC technology, is expensive, so Climbworks created a straightforward business model. In other words, it is a payment to an organization with a goal, such as a company. Some famous companies have already invested in Orca. According to the Climbworks website, Microsoft said DAC is a key component of its carbon-removal efforts, and insurance company Swiss Re is also contracting with Climbworks to bring carbon dioxide emissions and absorption to plus or minus zero. Even smaller businesses and individuals can recoup their carbon on a subscription basis. The website provides a link to sign up for a $8-$55 monthly subscription.
If Orca operates as scheduled, according to E&E estimates, the global carbon dioxide capture will increase by more than 40% and reach 13,000 tons annually. However, 13,000 tons of carbon dioxide is less than 1% of the amount generated by a single coal-fired power plant in a year. For reference, the 4,000 tons that the Orca plant recovers is slightly less than the annual emissions of 800 cars. Moreover, scaling up a DAC is not easy. It is difficult to predict how costs will change. Orca is made up of several small DAC units, and Climbworks is focused on making small units low-cost.
Other companies are trying to build DAC technology on a larger industry-level scale. Carbon Engineering, which competes with Climbworks, also aims to recover carbon dioxide at $100 per ton, but global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 are 35 billion tons. If all were recovered with this technology, the cost would be $3.5 trillion. Even if emissions can be reduced in the future, the cost becomes prohibitive if discarded according to DAC recovery.
Of course, some other technology developers claim that the recovery cost per ton is less than $100, but they say they don’t know how reliable the possibility is. These numbers speak to the reality of technology to reduce carbon dioxide levels. Billionaires, tech companies and giants around the world are expressing their hopes for CO2 recovery technologies, including DACs, but there is still much to prove in terms of scalability and cost. Operating a plant like Orca itself requires significant energy, but the use of petroleum fuel does the trick, so the renewable energy capacity must also increase.
Although the US’s recently passed infrastructure investment bill allocates $8 billion for carbon dioxide recovery technology, environmental groups and others have sent documents expressing their deep concern. But it wasn’t long before Orca was the world’s largest DAC facility. Carbon Engineering of Canada is aiming to start operation in 2026 by building a facility capable of recovering 500,000 to 1 million tons per year in Scotland, UK. Occidental, an oil company, also announced that it would build a DAC plant with an annual capacity of 1 million tons in cooperation with Carbon Engineering. Related information can be found here.