On 8 September, Swiss company Climeworks began operations of Orca, the world’s first and largest direct carbon capture and storage plant.
The construction of Orca started in May 2020, and due to its simple modular-based construction, it was possible for Orca to be operational in under 15 months.
Climeworks estimates that Orca will be able to permanently remove 4,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. Once the carbon dioxide is removed from the air, it can be safely stored underground. For this process, Climeworks teamed-up with an Icelandic company called Carbfix, who specialise in the process of turning carbon dioxide into stone.
The carbon dioxide that Orca captures is mixed with water and is then pumped deep underground. Over the course of a few years, this CO2 reacts with the natural basalt and eventually turns into solid carbonate minerals.
The CEOs of Climeworks are hopeful that the technology will help contribute to ambitious net-zero carbon targets set by the Paris Agreement of 2016.
The Orca facility
General view of the Orca facility, Hellisheiði, Iceland. Photo by Climeworks
Zero waste process
Strategically located adjacent to the Hellisheiði Geothermal power station in Iceland (seen here in this aerial view), Orca runs fully on renewable energy provided by the plant. Photo by Arni Saeberg
Dirty air goes in…
The air inlets of Orca are pictured just before the facility became operational. Air containing carbon dioxide enters through these vents. Photo by Climeworks
…Clean air comes out
The CO2-free air is released back into the atmosphere from these fans on the rear of the Orca ‘collectors’. Photo by Climeworks
Co-founders and joint CEOs of Climeworks Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher admire their creation, Orca. Photo by Climeworks
The magic ingredient
Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher hold some basalt rock, that will eventually react with CO2 from the Orca plant, and help turn it into carbon. Photo by Climeworks
Out of harm’s way
Carbon dioxide pictured after it has been turned into stone with the Carbfix process. Photo by Sandra O Snaebjornsdottir
How the process works:
Illustration by Climeworks
Orca is go
Jan Wurzbacher, co-CEO and co-founder of Climeworks, is pictured on the day that Orca became operational. Photo by Climeworks
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Up and running
Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher study the progress of Orca on 8 September 2021, the day the facility became operational. Photo by Climeworks
Humble but impressive
A view of the Orca plant in Iceland. Photo by Climeworks