Despite its size, Iceland has emerged as a pioneer of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. As part of its ‘Pathway to COP’ programme, the World Economic Series (WES) hosted by Diplomat magazine and PPP explored how Iceland’s experience can inform other countries seeking to develop carbon management strategies – and how they can further collaborate in their efforts.
“Time is running out.” These are the words of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 report, which lays out in stark terms the challenges we face in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.
If the world is to reach net zero by mid-century, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, simply reducing emissions will no longer be enough. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than six million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be captured each year to reach the UN’s climate change targets.
This has brought attention to the carbon capture and storage market. The practice of capturing carbon, stabilising it and then sequestering it in a stable state (usually underground), CCS is a technology with significant potential – but also notable limitations.
In a webinar held on 24 May, the WES welcomed the Ambassador of Iceland, HE Sturla Sigurjónsson along with representatives from Carbfix and Carbon Recycling International, to explore Iceland’s approach to carbon capture. Forming part of the WES’s Pathway to COP series, the event consisted of a discussion of how Iceland’s experience can inform other countries seeking to develop carbon management strategies – and how they can further collaborate in their efforts
Iceland: leading the way on carbon sequestering
The Ambassador began the session by discussing Iceland’s unique position as an energy market, and its influence on the nation’s carbon sequestration capacity; “Iceland enjoys ample natural energy resources and actually has the greatest per capita electricity production in Europe, and almost all if this is renewable energy – hydro and geothermal.” That means that Iceland has been able to decarbonise most sectors of its economy fairly rapidly – and where emissions are still produced, they are largely the result of difficult to decarbonise industrial processes (ie aluminium smelting).
This has focused Iceland’s decarbonisation efforts on CCS. As the Ambassador stated at the webinar, “In creating an environment that encourages innovation, Iceland is seeking to use its position to produce globally applicable and scalable solutions for the capture, storage and use of carbon – a practice that will be essential if the world is to adhere to The Paris Agreement goals.”
This point was followed up by Kristenn Ingi Lárusson, Head of Business Development at Carbfix, who stated outright that “climate goals will not be met without carbon capture and storage.
“Modelling of carbon reduction efforts done by the IEA indicate that CCS will need to account for around 11 per cent of carbon reduction, along with renewable energy sources (40 per cent), efficiency savings (30 per cent) and fuel switching (eight per cent).”
Through Carbfix’s approach, carbon dioxide (CO2) is dissolved in water and injected into basalt rock formations where it is mineralised in approximately two years and becomes permanently stored underground, within the rock. While Iceland itself does possess large amounts of basalt deposits, basaltic rocks are the most common rock type on surface on earth covering about five per cent of the surface of Earth’s continents, and most of the oceanic floor, so the technology “could be applied globally,” Mr Lárusson said. “Iceland, it is estimated, can theoretically store around 2,500 gigatons of CO2,” enough to meet the entire planet’s carbon reduction needs, but “it is estimated that Europe can store much more.”
The efficiency and scalability of this technology, which essentially replicates and accelerates natural processes, is certainly a cause for optimism where CCS is concerned; it costs under $25 per ton of CO2 for the entire process at the Hellisheiði power plant in Iceland (capturing, transporting and mineralisation), and according to Mr Lárusson “is a permanent solution; it is not possible for the CO2 to change back into a liquid state. We truly believe we have a tool in our hands that can contribute to ending the global climate crisis.
Carbon capture from industrial processes
Taking a different approach, Carbon Recycling International (CRI) seeks to capture carbon generated by industrial processes, converting it into other materials which are safer to use than fossil fuels – a process it dubs ‘emissions to liquids.’ Director of Sales and Marketing, Ómar Sigurbjörnsson, explained one strategy which harnesses carbon emissions and converts them to methanol.
“A versatile replacement for fossil alcohols and hydrocarbons,” and a highly efficient fossil fuel replacement releasing no sulphur or soot, methanol can be used to create a variety of products which until now have relied on fossil fuel derivates, from glue, to plastics, to fuel. As Mr Sigurbjörnsson continued, this presents an opportunity to “connect different industries; transport, energy, consumer goods, etc.”
The maritime industry is already seeking to transition towards methanol-based fuels, and as others follow this will test the scalability of CRI’s technology. Already, CRI has sites operational, or soon to be, in industrial facilities across Europe and China. One of these, in China’s Henan province, is expected to capture approximately 160,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the emissions from all cars in Reykjavik in a single year, and building of a second project in China is already underway.