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Earth Science

World's First 'Negative Emissions' Plant Has Begun Operation (qz.com) 218

In an effort to reduce the 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide humans produce each year, three companies have been working to build machines that can capture the gas directly from the air. One such machine in Iceland has begun operation. Quartz reports: Climeworks just proved the cynics wrong. On Oct. 11, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, the startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions. Although it's still at pilot scale -- capturing only 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year, about the same emitted by a single U.S. household -- it's the first system to take CO2 in the air and convert the emissions into stone, thus ensuring they don't escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years. Climeworks and Global Thermostat have piloted systems in which they coat plastics and ceramics, respectively, with an amine, a type of chemical that can absorb CO2. Carbon Engineering uses a liquid system, with calcium oxide and water. The companies say it's too early in the development of these technologies to predict what costs will be at scale.

World's First 'Negative Emissions' Plant Has Begun Operation

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  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @07:39AM (#55361323)
    They can have jobs putting all the carbon back into coal mines.
    • You joke, but I imagine if we ever filtered enough CO2 out of the global atmosphere to return to where we believe it should be, we throttle back sequestration and then use the atmosphere as a short-term carbon sink - burn something (hopefully something fairly clean-burning), capture the carbon later and turn it back into fuel again.

    • ...and sure-up all the creaky wooden posts and planks holding up the roofs. It'll stop them collapsing later and causing subsidence at the surface.

      Of course, what we'll probably end up doing is building monuments and stuff out of the carbon-rocks and filling the mines with concrete so we've got more CO2 to suck up later.

  • Well, technically, THAT is clean coal.

    As in : this is a technology designed to clean the air, and at the end it produce stone out of the captured CO2 - i.e.: (sort-of) coal (-ish).

  • by sensei moreh ( 868829 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @08:01AM (#55361383)

    Carbon Engineering uses a liquid system, with calcium oxide and water.

    Calcium oxide is most commonly made by heating limestone: CaCO3 -> CaO + CO2 Looks like all we're doing here is recovering the CO2 used to create the CaO

    • A lot of these schemes boil down to heat, so if you can use heat pipes or solar concentrators or some other such energy-efficient scheme for delivering the energy, they are plenty cheap in that sense. Even if this particular case doesn't turn out to have a carbon-negative lifecycle, the research value is high.

      • Yes, but the heating still seems to release CO2. And if the material has no more capacity than to recapture that same CO2, this is a net zero proposition.

    • Indeed (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      Unless they've found a seem of CaO nearby (which will still require fuel to be used to mine it) then it all seems a bit pointless. I suspect its true aim is to get venture capiltal to line some pockets and then after a few years they'll say "Oops, the maths doesn't work, but thanks for the money. First class to the climate conference in the Seychelles rocked!"

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      CO2 is fungible, so it doesn't matter which CO2 source you offset.

      The problem here I see is scaling this to the point where it makes a difference. Human emissions of CO2 amount to 10 gigatons of CO2/annum. Let's say to have a significant effect, you need to remove 5% of that. We need to remove five hundred billion kilograms of CO2 every year.

      CO2 has a molar mass of 44.01 g/mol; calcium carbonate has a molar mass of 100.09. So for every kg of CO2 you remove, you generate roughly 2.3 kg of CaCO3.

      That mea

      • CO2 is fungible, so it doesn't matter which CO2 source you offset.

        It matters if your method of capturing CO2 requires releasing an equal amount of CO2 to produce the necessary ingredients. You're not "offsetting" anything in that case, just converting CaCO3 -> CaO + CO2 -> CaCO3 in a closed loop and wasting energy in the process.

        • There's a lot of such cycles in industrial processes. For example, water in a nuclear power plant's coolant loop. That doesn't mean that such processes are useless. Obviously, otherwise we wouldn't bother with them.
    • But the process is also reversible. So if you can extract the CO2 then you can store it, or use it. Possible uses include creating polymers or fuels, which are mostly long carbon chains. In TFA, they take the CO2, put it into water, and inject it in the ground for storage (the CO2 turning into carbonates). The heat comes from waste heat from geothermal, so the whole idea is very efficient.

    • by Artagel ( 114272 )

      If you are going to get calcium from sedimentary rocks then limestone is your source. But being at the meeting of the North Atlantic and European plates Iceland has access to volcanic (igneous/metamorphic) rocks. They get their calcium from basalt. https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com]

      If you wait long enough for erosion to liberate calcium from volcanic rocks the CO2 in the oceans will form limestone. Typically, this is river runoff. https://earthobservatory.nasa.... [nasa.gov] Alas, waiting hundreds of millions of years

  • At what expense? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 )

    So it "eliminates" 50m CO2. How much geothermal energy does it use for this, and how much CO2 could be saved by not running this plant and instead using the power to power whatever is now being powered by a power plant burning coal, oil or gas?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Think about it like this: if this works, a large solar plant could be built in the middle of an inhospitable desert that exists solely to strip CO2 out of the air. Distributing electricity is a huge issue. Using it for something like this would be very useful.

      • If that was viable, we'd already have something like this. Transporting power is cheap, easy and quiet safe.

        Most deserts are not in the most stable of areas. Aside of that, you deal with extreme temperature differences in deserts, along with sand that kills your solar cells. I can see where you're coming from, but it just ain't that simple.

      • And for this application the fluctuations in generated power wouldn’t matter.

    • I don't think Iceland has the undersea cable to export any of its excess electricity.

      Already container ships take bauxite to Iceland to smelt for aluminum because there's so much cheap geothermal available.

    • Bingo.

      They could have also just generated liquid fuel and sent it out for burning. I imagine ethanol is easy to make (H3C-CH2OH), although methane is easier (CH4). If you're doing AGW, though, CH4 is more-volatile and dangerous: it's a gas at room temperature, and ethanol is liquid and not prone to induce a greenhouse gas effect.

    • by Eloking ( 877834 )

      So it "eliminates" 50m CO2. How much geothermal energy does it use for this, and how much CO2 could be saved by not running this plant and instead using the power to power whatever is now being powered by a power plant burning coal, oil or gas?

      This is a completely valid point.

      No matter how much CO2 they remove from air with their "'Negative Emissions" plant, if they can't beat the amouth "created" by the most "Positive Emissions" on earth then it'll be more worth it to use that clean power to replace it.

      Still, if we think like this we'll never work on this issue (removing CO2 from air) so I still find that this it worth it but, of course, I'll kept my doubt that they will ever reach those number. As the article said itself, removing the CO2 from

    • All great questions. What we should do is built a pilot plant to help determine the technology's viability!

  • At school I learned that plants already did that for millennia. They take in CO2, sunlight and water to produce sugar, starch and cellulose and they expel O2. Now we have the first negative CO2 emission plant?

    When did plants become CO2 producers?

    (And yes, I know that they do at night, c'mon, it's a joke, people...)

  • by Subm ( 79417 )

    The irony is that all plants are all negative emissions, yet we burn and chop down rain forests at a football field every few seconds (in metric: a futbol field every few seconds).

    • by cirby ( 2599 )

      The thing is, the botanists already know that despite the rainforest removal in some areas, the plants around the rest of the world have been taking up the slack.

      If you want to sequester a crapload of CO2 for the long term for practically no energy investment, just plant a lot of long-lived trees and replace them as necessary.

  • Weâ(TM)ve had naturally-occurring âNegative Emissionsâ(TM) plants for centuries - in fact I used to live next one, itâ(TM)s called a forest, and itâ(TM)s populated with plants and trees that actually thrive on greenhouse gasses...

  • Some solar powered technology to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into a valuable building material.

    Even better it should be self replicating - it would produce seeds which, when planted, would grow into copies of itself.

    That way humans could plant the seeds in fertile soil to get the process going and then just leave it.

    Sigh. Such a shame such a technology doesn't exactly grow on trees...

  • Why are they turning CO2 into stone? Why not convert it into something useful, like ethanol [energy.gov]?
    • Why are they turning CO2 into stone? Why not convert it into something useful, like ethanol [energy.gov]?

      Because if you convert it into ethanol or into a tree, the path back to atmospheric carbon is a lot shorter.

  • Sequestration is quite another.

    We've been sucking C02 out of the air for a long long time to make dry ice and carbonated drinks and as a byproduct of capturing nitrogen and oxygen for industrial and medical use. It's easy to capture the stuff...

    The problem is long term storage. Where you going to stuff this stuff in Iceland?

    So bully on you sir for collecting CO2, but what now? How you going to make this actually work long term? Call me when you have an answer for that one.

  • When I visited Hellisheiði this spring, the capture device was under construction, but our guide did not know what it was. Apparently it uses the plant’s copious hydrogen sulfide emissions to convert atmospheric carbon to a stable mineral compound.

  • I get this is proof of concept but what was the cabon footprint to build the plant. In other words, at what point will the plant negate all the carbon released in order to build it? Can it ever recover enough before the mechanical bits wear out?

  • Although it's still at pilot scale -- capturing only 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year, about the same emitted by a single U.S. household...

    Try asking that household to store those 50 metric tons of CO2 per year in the backyard. Even in brick form, they'd never agree and/or would run out of room pretty fast.

  • We do have fairly affordable CO2 collectors, plants. Idea: Why not pipe the CO2 from coal and gas plants into a sealed greenhouse with fast growing plants inside. The CO2 will make the plants grow faster and will absorb the CO2. Maybe then every so often the plant matter in some way can be compressed, bricked and stored. Or the plants can be fed back into the plant, burned, and the CO2 recaptured and piped back into the greenhouse to grow more plants and the cycle can repeat, a closed CO2 cycle.

    • Because plants only hold on to the CO2 for a short time period and then it ends up back out again. The CO2 we ADDED was outside the loop for a very long time until we released it at an extremely fast unnatural rate.

      Storing it in plants that are not going to be stored underground for a million years is pointless unless you drastically increase the biomass to consume all that CO2 in a larger ecosystem. Which is even more unrealistic as humans continue to kill off everything and replace it with humans, deser

  • That sounds more like lab scale than pilot plant.

    Additionally, this won't be acceptable unless the stone can be sold at a profit. That doesn't look feasible without lots of government subsidies on a permanent basis (possibly as carbon offsets, but some kind of subsidy).

    I think the oceanic algae farms are much more plausible. This story counts more as "interesting". And note that it depends on a local source of excess energy. (Geothermal in Iceland, but nuclear could also work. So could wind or solar.

  • At first I thought it was extracting the carbon and making it into coal, which of course could be used for fuel.
  • by Chas ( 5144 )

    This is EXACTLY the type of technology we should be looking SERIOUSLY at, a opposed to running around like a headless Chicken Little, screaming "HOTTEST *INSERT EVENT* EVARRRRRR!"

  • "What the hell man?! We gotta eat too..." Besides, running that 24/7 may cause jet streams to be pulled towards that factory. It would be funny if it stormed there all the time.

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"