A state-of-the-art facility opens today in Iceland that will capture 4,000t of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, per year, using direct air capture (DAC) technology and underground storage.

‘Orca’ – from the Icelandic word ‘orka’, meaning ‘energy’ – is described by its Swiss-owned engineering company, Climeworks, as the world’s biggest “climate-positive facility to date”. Climeworks was founded in 2009 and is now a leader in DAC technology. In 2017, it commissioned the world’s first commercial-scale, direct-air-capture plant in Switzerland and the world’s first carbon dioxide removal plant in Iceland.

Orca comprises eight units that are each roughly the size of a shipping container. Each unit contains a dozen fans that suck in the air.

The CO2 is filtered out of the air in this process, is mixed with water, and pumped into deep, underground wells. After a number of years, it then turns to stone.

What is DAC? DAC uses technology that captures CO2 from the atmosphere. This CO2 can then be stored underground, or can be used in the production of fuels or building materials. The geological storage of CO2 means it is permanently removed from the atmosphere. Worldwide, there are 15 DAC facilities in operation, believed to be capturing more than 9,000t CO2 per year. According to Climeworks founders Dr. Christoph Gebald and Dr. Jan Wurzbacher, direct air capture and storage is one of many carbon dioxide-removal technologies that are required to combat our climate crisis. “Other approaches to remove carbon include afforestation and reforestation (trees capture carbon dioxide when they grow), bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage, or enhanced weathering. The global capacity to store carbon dioxide is vast and lies between 5-30 trillion tonnes.” Their capture and storage solution – they say – is permanent, efficient, measurable and safe.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) This is the process of capturing C02 from the likes of power plants and industrial facilities before it enters the atmosphere, transporting it, and storing it for centuries or millennia.