New Plant to Capture Ten Times More CO2 from Atmosphere at Hellisheiði

green energy iceland

A new plant in Iceland will capture 36,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere, increasing the direct air carbon capture at Hellisheiði Power Station tenfold. Named Mammoth, the new facility adds to the existing 4,000 tonnes captured by the plant Orca, which commenced operations at the same location in September 2021, the first of its kind in the world. The plants are a project of Swiss company Climeworks, in collaboration with Carbfix and ON Power.

Hellisheiði Power Station is the world’s third-largest geothermal power plant. Since 2012, the Carbfix project has been capturing carbon dioxide directly from the plant’s emissions, in collaboration with Climeworks. Once captured, the carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, pumped into the ground, and turned to stone, thus permanently removing it from the atmosphere. Orca and Mammoth, however, capture carbon directly from the atmosphere, making them key technologies in the fight against climate catastrophe.

See Also: Set in Stone

“Today is a very important day for Climeworks and for the industry as construction begins on our newest, large-scale direct air capture and storage plant,” stated Jan Wurzbacher, co-founder and co-CEO of Climeworks.

The IPCC’s latest report shows that in addition to significant reductions in emissions, the capture and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere is a necessary component of most scenarios limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100. The report states that to reach this goal, up to 310 gigatonnes of CO2 must be captured from the atmosphere by that time.

“Large-scale carbon removal is vital in addition to rapid emission reduction if we are to reach our climate goals and our mineralisation technology provides the safest and most permanent storage mechanism for capture CO2,” stated Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, CEO of Carbfix.

Climeworks is currently running pilot projects around the world to determine other suitable locations for their carbon capture technology.

New Technology for Prawn Fishing Uses Light to Reduce Emissions

An Icelandic company has developed a technology for prawn fishing that uses light to herd prawn up from the sea floor. This allows the fishing equipment to remain off the sea floor, leading to less disturbance of the environment and lower emissions than conventional trawling. The technology is set to be put on the market soon.

Herding prawn with light

“We are developing the next generation of fishing equipment. Fishing equipment that can fly close to the bottom without touching the bottom. Then we have a light that herds,” Halla Jónsdóttir, founder of Optitog, told RÚV reporters. Optitog has named this patented light beam technology “Virtual Trawl” and has data that shows that it results in higher yields, compared to using the equipment with the light off.

“We have a special light that forms a sort of wall or line in the sea and we see that it works to herd [the prawn].” The prawn swims ahead of the light, up off the sea floor and into the nets. It’s possible to set the equipment so that it travels a consistent distance above the sea floor, for example 30 centimetres [11.8 inches].

Lower emissions

Because Optitog’s equipment does not trawl along the sea floor, it encounters 30% less resistance than conventional trawling, meaning the method drastically reduces fuel consumption. By leaving the sea floor largely undisturbed, the new technology also reduces CO2 emissions caused by disturbing organic material on the bottom of the ocean.

Halla says that a Norwegian party is working to put Optitog on the market as an environmentally-friendly fishing technology. Halla believes the technology could be applied to fishing other species.

Life-Threatening Conditions in Eldvörp Caves, Warning Issued

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Following gas measurements conducted yesterday, the Icelandic Met Office has issued a warning for caves near the Eldvörp crater row in the Reykjanes peninsula (west of the Blue Lagoon). The Met Office conducts such analyses every week after a series of earthquakes, which resulted in considerable land uplift near Mt. Þorbjörn by Grindavík, occurred in late January.

A warning issued by a natural hazard expert with the Met Office states that changes in gas concentration have been measured, and in light of this the Met Office warns against exploring caves in the area. Measurements within one cave, in particular, indicated a life-threatening concentration of carbon dioxide along with a lack of oxygen.

“There are many caves in the area, but the cave in question is near a parking lot popular among travellers seeking to visit the Eldvörp crater row,” the statement reads. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has been apprised of the situation.

In an interview with RÚV, Kristín Jónsdóttir, team leader with the natural disaster watch at the Met Office, stressed that the Met Office’s warning only applied to caves in the area: “Walking in the area should be safe. It’s a beautiful area and it’s fun to explore. But we’re warning travellers to refrain from exploring the caves.”

This article was updated at 2.33 pm.

Fizzy Bubbles in Lagoon No Cause for Concern

The Icelandic Met Office has determined that unusual air bubbles in the Kvíárlón lagoon to the southeast of the Öræfajökull volcano neither pose a health hazard to travellers nor indicate the onset of volcanic activity. Vísir reports that a local landowner contacted the meteorological office after seeing unusual air bubbles in the lagoon that “sounded like a soft drink.”

In a post on its Facebook page, the Met Office explained that employees visited the lagoon on Wednesday with a device that can measure carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, and hydrogen in its environment. Repeated attempts to take measurements of these compounds under the surface of the lagoon, however, returned only trace-amount readings. Based on this, experts agree that the whatever is causing the bubbles in the lagoon does not pose a safety concern for travellers.

Further tests will be run on water samples taken from the lagoon, but the current hypothesis is that carbon dioxide emissions from the volcano are causing the carbonated effect. Such emissions are normal and do not in and of themselves indicate an increase or onset of volcanic activity. Indeed, earthquake and expansionary activity at Öræfajökull has been on the decline this year.

Emissions Will Increase by 10% if Silicon Plant Reopens

Stakksberg Silicon Plant Helguvík.

Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase by over 10% if the silicon plant in Helguvík resumes its operations, RÚV reports. This data was provided by the Environment Agency of Iceland in response to a direct inquiry from the news agency. Stakksberg, a subsidiary of Arion Bank which took over the plant after it went bankrupt, is currently renovating it with plans to sell.

From the time of its opening, the Helguvík silicon plant, previously owned by United Silicon, was plagued by operational troubles and ultimately went bankrupt amidst widespread community outcry over the environmental and health impact it was having on the surrounding communities.

At maximum production – that is, 100,000 tonnes of silicon metal annually – Stakksberg’s newly refurbished plant in Helguvík would produce 550,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Based on figures from 2017, Iceland’s total overall greenhouse emissions would therefore increase by at least 10% if the plant goes back into production.

There’s also a chance that Stakksberg’s plant would be joined by yet another, even larger silicon plant owned by the company Thorsil. Thorsil was given an operational license in 2017 and, if its plant produces at its maximum capacity – 110,000 tonnes of silicon metal annually – it will generate 605,000 tons of CO2 per year. The Environment Agency said that these figures must be treated as theoretical at present, however, as neither factory is currently in production.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, as of 2030, European Union nations will reduce their carbon emissions by 40% (based on the levels they were in 1990). Although not part of the European Union, Iceland has ratified the agreement on the understanding that the country will reduce its emissions by a fiscally responsible and manageable percentage. It has now been determined that Iceland only needs to reduce emissions by 29% (based on 2005 levels) by 2030. Despite this, Iceland has approved a climate change strategy that still seeks to reduce emissions by the Paris Agreement levels of 40%. Prime Minister Katrín Jakóbsdóttir has taken this goal even further, setting a goal of making the country entirely carbon neutral by 2040.

Nevertheless, the government’s action plan on climate change does anticipate that up until 2030, emissions from heavy industry in Iceland will increase considerably. From 1990 until 2016, emissions increased 106%.

A silicon plant went into production at Bakki, near Húsavík in North Iceland in 2018. In addition to the two silicon plants that may be soon up and running in Helgúvík, a number of other plans for additional heavy industry projects are also in the works. but, in the words of the government’s action plan on climate change, “[s]ignificant reduction of carbon emissions in Iceland is unlikely to be possible in this sector without the emergence of new technologies, such as inert electrodes in the production of aluminum or the collection and injection of carbon dioxide.”

Four Million Trees to be Planted in 2019

The Icelandic Forest Service intends to plant nearly four million trees this year as part of a long-term climate action plan, RÚV reports. The new plantings will supplement the three million that the Forest Service planted last year, and will include birch, larch, black cottonwood, lodgepole pine, and sitka spruce trees, among other species.

“There are exciting times ahead,” remarked National Forest Division Chief Þröstur Eysteinsson. “This summer, we decided that reforestation would play a big part in Icelanders’ climate action plan and that we should plant a lot more trees in the coming years than we have so far. This won’t start all that quickly, but we expect to get close to four million trees in total and then go up from there.” Tens of millions of krónur are currently being invested in reforestation projects, and Þröstur hopes that by 2020, investment will increase to hundreds of millions.

Iceland’s five-year fiscal plan anticipates spending ISK 6.8 billion [$56.4 million; €49.2 million] on climate-related expenses. The majority of this funding, or ISK 4 billion [$33.2 million; €28.9 million], will be allocated to CO2 capture efforts lead by the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service. The Forest Service will receive an increase of ISK 450 million [$3.7 million; €3.3 million] by 2020, going up to ISK 1.7 billion [$14.1 million; €12.3 million] by 2023.

This year, the Forest Service will be planting a large percentage of its new trees on land in its ownership, particularly in Skorradalur in West Iceland. There will also be significant plantings in in South Iceland at a new grove near Þorlákshöfn—aided by this year’s seedling fundraiser to benefit ICE-SAR—as well as one on Mt. Hekla.

Iceland Has Highest Per-Capita CO2 Emissions in EU and EFTA

Iceland has the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions when all the economies in the EU and EFTA are compared side-by-side. This result came forth in a recent report issued by Statistics Iceland, which compared data from 2016.

Iceland’s CO2 emissions have increased significantly since 2014, which was the last time they were compared with those in the EU and EFTA areas. From 2008-2014, Iceland was ranked third or fourth in per-capita CO2 emissions, but they have increased since then due to “increased activity in air and marine transport,” as well as metal production.

“Other economies with high per capita emissions are Luxembourg, Denmark and Estonia,” the report continues. “Emissions per capita within these countries have been between 13 and 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita. Emissions per capita within the region have, in general, been decreasing since 2008, and the majority of countries have reached approximately 9 tonnes per capita with few countries showing significantly lower values. Iceland is the only country among the countries ranked above 20 which has shown a significant increase in per capita emissions since 2008.”

As of 2016, Iceland’s CO2 emissions are 16.9 tonnes per capita, up from 15.5 in 2015, and 13.9 in 2014. Iceland’s emissions were actually on a downward trend between 2008 and 2012, going from 14.6 tonnes per capita to 13.3. But they began to rise again in 2013.

The report notes that “[t]he economies at the top of the list have economic segments which dominate their emissions. The majority of emissions from the economy of Luxembourg come from the air transport section, both air cargo and passenger transportation. Marine transport is the dominating sector for the Danish economy, which is home to the world’s largest shipping company. In 2016, only 15% of Estonian power generation came from a renewable source, which makes this sector the dominant emitter with the economy. Estonia produces 93% of their energy needs, which is the highest portion within the EU.” Emissions from the Icelandic economy derive primarily from two sectors, the report continues: “…air transportation and the production of basic metals. Emissions from metal production in Iceland are due to consumption of graphite in electrodes rather than from fuel combustion.”

When comparing household emissions, Iceland also ranks higher than its Nordic neighbors in CO2 emissions, and has since 2008. “The highest value was 1.96 tonnes per capita in 2007, but the value reached 1.64 tonnes per capita in 2014, which is a lowering by 19%. Emissions from 1.64 tonnes of carbon dioxide is similar to a mid-sized family car that is driven 8,000 km.”

“Danish households have reduced their emissions most from 2008, or by 0.33 tonnes per capita,” the report notes, and so have Icelandic households. However, even so, “…the value for 2016 is still higher than what was calculated for 1995.” The report notes that “[t]he increase in emissions from 1995 to 2007 resembles the general trend for household spending in the years prior to the economic collapse of 2008. The reduction post collapse is also somewhat reflected in the emission trends, but renewal of the household car fleet didn’t start until a few years after the crash.” The outlook isn’t entirely pessimistic, however: “It can be estimated that electrification of the car fleet will further reduce the household emissions after 2016.”

See the full report, in English, here.