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Converting captured carbon into rock really is that easy

Icelandic company Carbfix has cracked the code on converting liquified CO2 into rock, leading the charge to capture and store excess carbon.

A picture of two pipelines leading to a factory with multiple smoke stacks, surrounded by green, grassy mountains

Hellisheidi Power Plant. Photo: Arni Saeberg

Capturing carbon from the atmosphere is quickly becoming a popular venture. The sector skyrocketed in 2022 as the top emerging segment of climate tech funding, and the Inflation Reduction Act passed earlier this year increased the financial compensation for every ton of carbon captured in the U.S. But Icelandic company Carbfix has been capturing and storing carbon in rocks for over a decade.

Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, Carbfix’s CEO, has been with Carbfix since its inception in 2007. Beginning as a PhD student working on the R&D of the relationship between CO2, hydrology and geology beneath the earth, Aradóttir worked her way up after earning her doctorate, first to project manager, and then eventually to CEO of the innovative company paving the way for a new frontier of carbon capturing.

Carbfix specifically dissolves CO2 into sparkling water and injects the mixture into a carefully chosen subsurface, or the layer beneath the earth’s surface. Once among the subterranean rock (most commonly basalt) a naturally occurring phenomenon takes over and solidifies the combination into solid carbonate minerals. While other types of rock can also host this process, basalt is one of the most common rock types on Earth, according to Aradóttir, making the adoption of the technology more feasible across the globe.

Currently, Aradóttir told GreenBiz, "point sourcing, or capture and storage at the same location, is always going to be the most cost effective. But when that’s not possible, [Carbfix] can add the transport link, whether that means pipes, trains, trucks or ships."

But once it arrives at Carbfix’s facilities, it requires storage until it can be sequestered into the rock. Aradóttir explains that temporary CO2 storage infrastructure is the next project the company is undertaking.

The European Union recently pledged significant financial support to Carbfix to "build the first of a kind of such [a storage facility] in Iceland." Carbfix expects to break ground in the upcoming months.

Three workers in neon work jackets are in a steel prism with industrial tubes.

Image courtesy of Green by Iceland, photographer Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson

Speaking to GreenBiz at the recent US-Iceland Energy Summit hosted in Washington, D.C., Aradóttir shared an upcoming local project. According to the CEO, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding Carbfix’s research in Minnesota, with the ultimate purpose of the R&D to determine whether local rock formations could one day host injected CO2. 

In addition to the Minnesota project, Carbfix is simultaneously scoping the U.S. geology for other sites amenable for future CO2 injection and storage. While all U.S.-based projects are in the infancy of the R&D phase, Aradóttir confirmed that substantial local job creation is to be expected. For example, she estimates 600 new jobs at the upcoming storage facility about to break ground in Iceland. For the U.S., a country whose transition to 100 percent renewable energy depends upon steady job creation to compensate for the fossil fuel-based jobs lost, this is only good news.

Aradóttir passionately advocated for an expedited adoption of climate change mitigating measures.

"We have the technologies and we know what to do, but we’re still not really doing it at the pace needed," she said. "I don’t think this gets the attention it should get." Aradóttir acknowledged that "doom and gloom" is not an effective communication strategy to spur action. Optimism is needed to encourage hope and drive motivation. But still she knows it’s hard when, "year after year after year, we don’t deliver, but it's something we absolutely can do." 

Carbfix is taking that mantra to heart. Currently, the company has injected 83,957 metric tons of CO2, or the equivalent of 208 million miles driven by an average combustion vehicle, into the earth since 2014, and it's taking that technology on an international tour. Currently, Carbfix has 14 ongoing projects within Iceland and around the world, including Germany, Turkey and Italy. And its website features an atlas of all of the potential geological sites where subsurface CO2 injection and storage should be compatible. Time will tell if Carbfix can get buy-in to take advantage of these sites.

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