A company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is turning CO2 into stone. Carbfix uses natural, low-cost, and permanent methods to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbfix has already injected over 66,500 metric tons of CO2 since 2014.
As one of the most consequential greenhouse gases, CO2 contributes to the disastrous results of climate change all across the globe. Each month, the levels of this natural gas continue to rise, primarily due to burning fossil fuels. While utilizing alternative methods of energy is essential, sustainable solutions to reduce the damage already done are also crucial.
The technology that supports Carbfix was once merely a hopeful dream. After all, the prospect of trapping CO2 and transforming it into harmless rocks does sound a bit far-fetched. However, in an era where self-driving electric cars will soon navigate underground tunnels and every human on earth will have internet access, an improbable solution for climate change should come as no surprise.
Carbfix’s technology works in two key ways: preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere and removing the CO2 that’s already there. The former process, carbon capture, can reduce a company’s emissions down to zero. The latter method, carbon removal, can either offset emissions or further reduce emissions, making its impact negative.
As sustainable solutions become more necessary, companies will see incentives to become carbon neutral—or close to it.
That’s why investors, like Gates, are willing to bet on companies like Climeworks. Not only do they hope for a more sustainable future. They’re eager to support the technology that can make it happen. In fact, Elon Musk announced that he will be funding a $100 million project, the Carbon Removal Prize, which will distribute the money over the course of four years to the best technology innovations in this field.
The seeds of Carbfix were first planted over 14 years ago in 2007 after an initial research project. Owned by Reykjavik Energy in Iceland, Carbfix was co-founded by the University of Iceland, The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Carbfix turns gaseous CO2 into stone by gathering it (either through carbon capture or carbon removal), dissolving it into water, and then injecting it into the ground.
The carbonated water cannot be injected anywhere. It needs favorable rocks, like basalt, in order to create a stable and safe environment for the CO2 to react with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. These reactions create carbonates, which settle into the empty spaces in porous stones.
With this technology, CO2 transforms into stable minerals underground in less than two years.
This is a natural process that has been happening on earth for billions of years. Carbfix merely accelerates that process and creates permanent, safe carbon sinks.
The first pilot injections happened in 2012, and the initial results surprised researchers. Two years for dangerous gaseous CO2 to become harmless stone was faster than anyone had anticipated.
By 2030, Carbfix hopes to reach its goal of permanently storing over 1 billion metric tons of CO2. Further into the future, the potential for this technology is massive. Theoretically, Europe could store at least 4,000 billion metric tons of CO2 this way, while the US could store at least 7,500 billion metric tons. Global energy-related emissions currently average around 25 billion metric tons a year.