Put in underground!
Iceland is full of energy. It sputters and steams even when a volcano is not erupting. White steam clouds lead the way to Hellisheidi east of Reykjavik. The rising steam can be seen from a long distance over the impressive landscape. The steam which comes up out of the boreholes at the geothermal power plant has a temperature of up to 360° C - A wonderful way to produce electricity and heat from renewable energies and practically without emissions which are harmful to the climate. This is good but it gets better. If the Paris Climate Agreement is to be taken seriously, we will soon need so-called negative emissions. How is that to work?
It is obvious how enthused Bergur and Sandra from the Reykavik energy suppliers are for their project Carbfix (https://www.or.is/english/carbfix/carbfix-project). The idea is equally simple and brilliant. CO2 which is dissolved in water turns into a mineral ( for example calcite) when it comes in contact with basalt rock. This has been going on for thousands of years in a natural way – the white solid matter stays under the earth. What would happen when additional CO2 is brought underground – all these surplus climate emissions which are causing us so many problems? This is exactly what Sandra, Bergur and their colleagues are experimenting with in a European research project. Both this highly concentrated CO2 from the geothermal power plant and CO2 taken out of the air are dissolved in water and pumped under the earth. CO2 taken out of the air? We are standing in front of an inconspicuous site which looks like an over-dimensioned ventilator attached to a container. This is a real CO2-catcher built by the Swiss company Climeworks. In accordance with the weather conditions in Iceland, everything is tightly secured with straps. Fifty tons of CO2 are taken out of the air in this test site yearly. Electricity and water are necessary for this – they are right next door. It would of course not be wise to operate such a site using coal-based electricity, but the conditions for this are ideal on Iceland.
70% of the CO2 is put to use and 30% is kept. A small technology park has come to exist around the site - a small greenhouse and a container with an algae production make use of the CO2. The other 30% is dissolved in water – one imagines bubbly lemonade – and taken to the drill hole, the re-injection well. The small hut placed on top of the drill hole seems rather unimposing but magic is going on underneath. At a depth of 70 m the gas which has been dissolved in water comes in contact with the basalt.
And how much CO2 really stays underground? Sandra and Bergur grin at one another – more than 95% which is a fantastic result. There is no lack of new ideas for the expansion of this project. As soon as CO2 emissions are given a realistic price then the way could be paved for the economic operation of such sites.
We still had about a thousand questions we could have posed to the two but here too there are sometimes more important things happening. The Icelandic football team played against the Nigerian and pretty well everything except the restaurants came to a standstill.
And so our time here in Reykjavik came to an end. We wish to thank Sigga’s husband Böbbi and their children who put us up for a few days. Takk Fyrir!! It was cozy, delicious and super friendly.
Frauke, Tobias und Lauren