In Hellisheidi on Iceland, "Orca" is the world's largest CO2 filter system. It is intended to fix carbon dioxide in the soil, which the car manufacturer Audi is taking advantage of when it comes to climate targets. A clever technology to solve the climate problem or just a small gust of wind?
In the middle of the breathtaking landscape of the island of fire and ice, several container-sized units rise up that don't fit into the environment at all. The first glance suggests an industrial complex in nature. The opposite is the case. Instead of destroying nature, "Orca", as the facility is called, is intended to help protect the environment. To do this, it binds the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in stone.
This so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is also in high demand in industry - for example at the Swiss car company AMAG or the German car manufacturer Audi. The latter has been cooperating with the Swiss cleantech company Climeworks, which is behind "Orca", since 2013.
With "Orca" to the corporate climate target
And not just for altruistic motives. According to Hagen Seifert, Head of Sustainable Product Concepts at Audi car manufacturer, absorbing carbon dioxide is, from a scientific point of view, "an important measure for achieving the Group's climate targets." The Volkswagen Group, to which the Ingolstadt company belongs, wants to reduce the ecological footprint of the entire value chain by 30 percent by 2025 compared to 2015, and by 2050 the company should be CO2-neutral.
In Ingolstadt, people in Ingolstadt expect a lot from the commitment to Climeworks, especially with the "Orca" project: Of the 4,000 tons of CO2 a year that the system is supposed to bind, a quarter will be paid into Audi's climate account. To put it plainly: by investing in Climeworks, Audi buys the CO2 values it needs to achieve the target – i.e. according to the same principle as in GHG quota trading. A common practice of large companies to save as much CO2 as quickly as possible. The fact that the carbon dioxide is not saved in production does not ultimately play a role in the climate balance - the amount captured does: Compared to the global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, the 4000 tons that Orca captures annually modest. Projections put annual CO2 emissions in 2050 at 43.1 billion tons. In order to catch that again, it would take a good 10 million orca enclosures.
But Audi doesn't see the purchase of CO2 values as the only solution for a neutral value chain. The car manufacturer only wants to use carbon credit projects to compensate where it is currently technically not possible to be neutral. The Audi plant in Brussels, where the e-tron is produced, is considered a showcase for this promise. Because it is the first certified CO2-neutral plant.Efficient use of resources should also reduce the high CO2 values in the supply chain. Audi estimates that a quarter of the emissions will probably occur there in the future. At this point, the suppliers also have an obligation.
This is how CO2 becomes rock
CCS technology can do a lot for Audi itself. But how does the storage of CO2 in the ground work? The technology behind it sounds simple. Air is drawn in from the environment by fans in modular units, the CO2 is filtered out in the system and collected in a collector. Then it is heated, the energy required for this is supplied by a nearby geothermal power plant. At 100 degrees Celsius, the CO2 is released again and dissolved in water. "Orca" then pumps this water down up to 1,000 meters into the earth layer. And there the conversion and storage process of the CO2 begins (see graphic above). Carbon dioxide reacts when it comes into contact with minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron in porous rock, such as the volcanic basalt soil in Iceland. It begins to petrify. This takes up to two years. But then the CO2 should be stored in the stone forever.
A filter system that takes CO2 out of the air and fixes it in the ground? Sounds like a good solution in the fight against climate change. It contributes to greener mobility by reducing the CO2 emissions that occur when the cars are built.
The fact that Climeworks partially removes the CO2 from the atmosphere on behalf of a car manufacturer is just a step in the right direction. However, quota trading alone is not enough. A nationwide installation of such systems would probably be needed to promote climate protection.