Can Carbon Capture & Storage Save the World?

Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is not a new concept.


Early CCS began in the 1920s, ‘separating CO2 sometimes found in natural gas reservoirs from the saleable methane gas,’[1] and many companies and countries alike have utilised it since.


However, it is not an uncontroversial topic in the Environmental sector, with many worrying that it is simply encouraging the continued use of fossil fuels, rather than helping to remove them.


"If you present the siren song of negative emissions, does it decrease humanity's will to invest in the mitigation that's needed to reduce emissions - this a concern we've discussed in every meeting.”[2]

Introducing Carbfix


Not to be confused with the newest dietary fad, Carbfix started investigations into Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS, in 2006 and was ‘formalized by four founding partners in 2007; Reykjavík Energy, the University of Iceland, CNRS in Toulouse, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.[3]


The company's mission is to become a key instrument in tackling the climate crisis by reaching one billion tons of permanently stored CO2 (1 GtCO2) as rapidly as possible.[4]

In the face of disbelief from the scientific community, the Carbfix pilot project found that 95% of CO2 had fully embedded into underground Basalt rock formations within 1-2 years, much faster than the expected 5-year initial timeframe. This project allows for carbon, and other dangerous greenhouse gases, GHGs, such as Hydrogen Sulfide H2S to be removed from the atmosphere and injected deep underground for storage.


This alternative route for carbon removal seems to provide another string to the bow of hope for scientists and environmental campaigners across the world, providing alternative, creative solutions to the human problem of Climate Change.




Image of a Carbfix site in Iceland, with mountains and open gree spaces in the back and foreground.

Image of a Carbfix site in Iceland.[5]


How does CCS work?

CCS is a form of carbon sinking, mimicking what happens in the natural landscape all around us. The main natural carbon sinks are plants, the ocean and soil.


  • Land and marine plants use CO2 in the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Some CO2 is transferred to the soil as plants later die and decompose.

  • Oceans store large quantities of CO2, and some dissolves in seawater.[6]


Companies such as Carbfix and Climeworks, a Swiss company using technology from Carbfix, use this natural method and sink carbon into underground rock formations, removing it from our atmosphere and storing it safely for thousands of years.


This is achieved by dissolving CO2 in water, forming a kind of sparkling water, that is then injected into favourable rock formations to form solid carbonate minerals, via a natural process that takes about 2-years to mineralise.[7]


These favourable rock formations such as basalts, react with the acidic carbonated water, releasing primary minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. These molecules form carbonates filling up the pores (empty space) within the rocks, as you can see on the image below. With at least 95% of injected CO2 mineralising within 2-years, the CO2 can be considered stable and stored.

Image from Carbfix website[8] showing the basalt rock. The many small holes or pores, in this rock and its composition make it idea for filling with carbonated water for storage.

Image from Carbfix website[8] showing the basalt rock. The many small holes or pores, in this rock and its composition make it idea for filling with carbonated water for storage.



Could we use this method in other places?


It is estimated that Europe could theoretically store at least 4,000 billion tons of CO2 in rocks while the United States could store at least 7,500 billion tons.[9]


Carbfix have suggested that multiple sites across the world would be suitable for this kind of CCS, due to the availability of favourable rock formations.


These rock formations include, but are not limited to,

  • Volcanic basalts,

  • Igneous provinces, and

  • Oceanic ridges.

All of which are of the igneous rock variety and are known to contain primary minerals that promote reactions with dissolved CO2 and help form solid carbonates, thus trapping harmful CO2.


Igneous rocks form when magma (molten rock) cools and crystallizes, either at volcanoes on the surface of the Earth or while the melted rock is still inside the crust. All magma develops underground, in the lower crust or upper mantle, because of the intense heat there.[10]

This means that many locations across the globe may be suitable for this form of CCS, as long as they have the appropriate stability, and have good levels of water availability. To help advance the global application of CCS, Carbfix have created an atlas to advise on the feasibility of other nations utilising CCS as part of their climate strategy.


These possible favourable rock formations are evidenced by the brown shaded areas on the map below.[11]

These possible favourable rock formations are evidenced by the brown shaded areas on the blue and white map below.


The global storage potential is greater than the emissions of the burning of all fossil fuels on Earth.[12]


Is CCS the answer to reaching our climate goals?

CCS remains contentious in the scientific world, due to the root issue of fossil fuels.


Many scientists, researchers, and environmental experts are claiming that despite our increasing ability to capture up to 90% of carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that we create, that it is simply not enough to outweigh the negatives with continuing to use fossil fuels, such as coal or gas.


Experts, such as Howard Herzog, a Senior Research Engineer in the MIT Energy Initiative, states that capturing and storing 90% of GHG emissions from coal power plants, for example, used to be ambitious enough, but now, when faced with increasingly challenging climate goals, it is harder and more expensive to get beyond this efficiency level. This therefore means that the continued damage caused by fossil fuels will be higher than the positives associated with removing it from the environment.


To catch the last remainders of CO2 once a system passes 90% efficiency is equal parts engineering puzzle and economics problem, Herzog says. The closer a CCS system gets to 100% efficiency, the harder and more expensive it becomes to capture additional carbon dioxide.[13]

Similarly, some argue that it removes important focus from developing, and the widespread introduction of, cleaner, greener alternatives, such as solar or wind power. If we are to live in a carbon neutral world, harvesting and using sources of CO2 and other harmful greenhouses gases surely then defeats the purpose, as some amount of GHG will continue to be released into the environment, despite efforts to capture and store it.


However, over the past 100 years CCS has become cheaper and less energy demanding, when considering removal from the atmosphere instead of at source, which removes large factors holding back the introduction of widespread CCS use. Moreover, companies are now preaching the potentially unlimited capacity for storage using worldwide rock formations.

Climeworks newest generation of collectors being installed at a site in Iceland. This collector is used to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.

Climeworks newest generation of collectors being installed at a site in Iceland. This collector is used to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.


Most interestingly, CCS could open the door on a carbon reusing revolution. Companies such as the Swiss Climeworks, and Icelandic Carbfix can collect carbon from both direct emission sources, such as factories, or the environment.[14] This collected carbon can then be used in multiple ways, "to store it away permanently to achieve negative emissions and to make products from CO2 so you can replace fossil CO2." [15]


This means that industries that would struggle to switchover to renewable energy sources could continue to use fossil fuels and collect waste carbon ordinarily emitted to the environment. This carbon, and other GHG selections, could then be used to create products, for example fizzy drinks.


CCS seems a good solution for businesses that cannot switch over to renewable green energy alternatives and has great implications for the removal of atmospheric carbon. However, while it appears to have sensible and intelligent applications, the idea of continued fossil fuel usage, even in very limited quantities, does seem to go against the grain of the scientific and environmental focus of many worldwide, anti-emissions policies and targets.


Perhaps in a future world filled with clean, green alternatives, CCS can help us twofold, in safely removing and storing atmospheric carbon, and in very limited, specific use when capturing carbon and other greenhouse gases at source, as part of a carbon recycling initiative.


Either way, we look forward to seeing what the next 100-years can hold for CCS.


________________________________________________________________________ [1] Ieaghg.org, ‘CCS information sheet 2,’ <https://ieaghg.org/docs/General_Docs/Publications/Information_Sheets_for_CCS_2.pdf> 06.04.2022 [2] Professor Stephen Pacala of Princeton University, quoted in BBC News, ‘Climate change: Five cheap ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere,’ published by Matt McGrath, 25.10.2018 [3] Carbfix, ‘Our Story,’<https://www.carbfix.com/our-story> 06.04.2022 [4] As above. [5] Image of Carbfix site, with all credit to Carbfix Iceland ohf, Bæjarhálsi 1, 110 Reykjavík, from their website Carbfix, ‘photos,’ <https://www.carbfix.com/photos> [6] LiveScience.com, ‘What is a Carbon Sink?’ by Andrea Thompson, published 21.12.2012, <https://www.livescience.com/32354-what-is-a-carbon-sink.html> [7] Carbfix, ‘How it works,’ <https://www.carbfix.com/how-it-works> 06.04.2022 [8] Image of basalt rock, with all credit to Carbfix Iceland ohf, Bæjarhálsi 1, 110 Reykjavík, from their website Carbfix, ‘photos,’ <https://www.carbfix.com/photos> [9] Carbfix, ‘Where does it work?’ <https://www.carbfix.com/atlas> 06.04.2022 [10] National Geographic, ‘Igneous rocks,’ last updated 10.10.2019, <https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/igneous-rocks/> [11] Carbfix, ‘Mineral Storage Atlas,’ <https://www.carbfix.com/atlas> 06.04.2022 [12] Carbfix, ‘Where does it work?’ <https://www.carbfix.com/atlas> 06.04.2022 [13] MIT Climate Portal, ‘How efficient is carbon capture and storage?’ by Andrew Moseman, featuring Howard Herzog, Senior Research Engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative, published 23.02.2021, <https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-efficient-carbon-capture-and-storage> [14] Image of Climeworks newest colletors being installaed in Iceland, from Dezeen, ‘Carbon Climeworks mining sky interview,’ published by Marcus Fairs, 14.06.2021, <https://www.dezeen.com/2021/06/14/carbon-climeworks-mining-sky-interview/> [15] Dezeen, ‘Carbon Climeworks mining sky interview,’ published by Marcus Fairs, 14.06.2021, <https://www.dezeen.com/2021/06/14/carbon-climeworks-mining-sky-interview/>

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