Carbfix, a company based in Iceland, came up with an innovative solution in the early 2000’s to capture and store CO₂ with an extraordinary technology. After years of research and development, Carbfix came through. Since 2016 they’ve been capturing these GHG emissions and converting them into rocks: storing them forever instead of letting the emissions escape. Could this be the game-changing solution to climate change we’ve been waiting for?
“This is a technology that can be scaled—it’s cheap and economic and environmentally friendly,” Carbfix Chief Executive Officer Edda Sif Pind Aradottir said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Basically we are just doing what nature has been doing for millions of years, so we are helping nature help itself.”
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) could be key in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in enabling low-carbon electricity generation from power plants. According to the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, “more than 40% of CO2 emissions in the United States are from electric power generation. CCS technologies are currently available and can dramatically reduce (by 80-90%) CO2 emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels. Applied to a 500 MW coal-fired power plant, which emits roughly 3 million tons of CO₂ per year”
CCS could be an important factor to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, specially article 2, 1(a): “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.
Bloomberg and Fortune estimate that carbon capture can “cut a company or government’s emissions to zero, while carbon removal can help offset its emissions, or even make its impact negative, by taking more CO₂ out of the air than it produces”
How Carbfix Does It
Carbfix both captures and stores carbon emissions in an easy, cost effective way by transforming them into Icelandic rock. It sounds simple yet complex, but no one can explain better than CEO Dr. Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir: “Our technology takes CO2 from emissions and dissolves it in water, effectively making carbonated water. The water is then injected into specific rock formations that react with the CO2 and transform it into stone. We have tested and applied this for over a decade now and can turn CO2 into stone in less than two years. The scientific background is firm, with more than 100 published papers.” Their innovative, secure and highly efficient carbon storage technology has been widely recognized and applauded. In recent years, CarbFix has received worldwide recognition for developing novel, safe, and efficient geologic carbon storage method, which successfully converted injected CO₂ into stable carbonate rocks within two years.
Planting trees and installing vertical gardens is a great initiative that many companies and countries are taking, but it isn’t the only way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, nor is the most effective. Carbon is also naturally stored in rocks. Carbfix imitates natural processes in which carbon dioxide dissolves in water and interacts with reactive rock formations to form “stable minerals providing a permanent and safe carbon sink”. Once they form into rocks, carbon is considered successfully, safely stored and eliminated.
The method, simply explained, is as follows:
Captured CO₂ dissolves in water. This now carbonated water is acidic. Carbonated water will react with rocks underground and release minerals (including but not limited to calcium, magnesium and iron) into the water stream. These elements will combine with the dissolved CO₂ and form carbonates which will fill up the rocks’ pores. Because the injected carbonated water is denser than the surrounding water, these new stones will sink. Basaltic rocks, found commonly in Iceland, are a great candidate for this process because they’re very porous, so carbonated water can seep in easily. According to the company, “for the Carbfix technology to work, one needs to meet three requirements: favorable rocks, water, and a source of carbon dioxide”.
In the CarbFix pilot project the research found that: “Over 95% of the CO₂ injected into the Carbfix site in Iceland was mineralized to carbonate minerals in less than two years. This result contrasts with the common view that the immobilization of CO₂ as carbonate minerals within geologic reservoirs takes several hundreds to thousands of years (Matter et al., 2016)”. The process is low-cost, as low as $10/tonne of CO₂, and is a permanent removal with no long-term monitoring needed.
Estimates say that Europe could (theoretically) store 4,000 billion tons of CO₂ in rocks, and the US at least 7,500 billion tons. Carbfix wants to make their methodology easy to use and afford throughout the continent. In an interview in January 2021 with CEO Dr. Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, stated that: “In 2020, we signed an agreement with Climeworks, a Swiss company that captures CO₂ from the atmosphere, for a plant to capture and store CO₂. It will be built in the Hellisheiði Geopark and will significantly scale-up carbon removal and storage, permanently removing 4,000 tonnes/year of CO² from the air. We are also in collaboration with research institutions across Europe and will be starting pilot injections into field sites in Germany and Turkey in 2021. Beyond that, we are open for business and in dialogue with numerous businesses across the world which are thinking about reducing their emissions. Many companies are starting to align their sustainability goals with their country’s climate goals.”
Their CarbFix2 project plans a affordable and easy to implement the technology through a “comprehensive project consisting of 1) the capture and co-injection of impure CO₂ and other water-soluble polluting gases into the subsurface, 2) integration of the CarbFix method with novel direct air capture technology, 3) the development of the technology to perform the CarbFix geological carbon storage method using seawater injection into submarine rocks, and 4) lowering the cost of the complete CCS chain.”
This technology could be incorporated into companies’ and governments’ climate strategies to reduce their emissions. That’s why Carbix created a mapping tool to show the feasibility of applying their methods. According to the company’s estimates, “the global storage potential is greater than the emissions of the burning of all fossil fuels on Earth”. However, as we know, the implementation of the technology is decided upon by legislation and policies that need to be encouraged to make a change in the first place.