Founding of Carbfix
Carbfix started out as a project in 2006 and was formalised by four founding partners in 2007: Reykjavík Energy, the University of Iceland, CNRS in Toulouse and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Since then, several universities and research institutes have participated in the project under the scope of EU funded sub-projects, including Amphos 21, Climeworks and the University of Copenhagen.
The idea behind Carbfix involves imitating and accelerating a natural process through which dissolved CO2 and reactive rock formations interact to form thermodynamically stable carbonate minerals, thereby providing a permanent and environmentally benign carbon storage host. In just seven years, Carbfix was transformed from an idea on paper to a fully operational, cost-effective and environmentally benign industrial process to capture CO2 and H2S from emission sources and permanently store it as rock in the subsurface. This rapid and successful innovation development was founded on strong industry-academia collaboration, with active involvement of interdisciplinary scientists, engineers and tradespeople. Next generation climate solution experts were simultaneously actively trained through undergraduate and graduate level research posts.
During the first years of the project, the main focus was to optimize the method through laboratory experiments, studies on natural analogues, reservoir modelling and characterization of the Carbfix pilot injection site, often referred to as the Carbfix1 site, where pilot injections were conducted. Design and construction of gas capture, injection and monitoring equipment was carried out simultaneously along with a comprehensive licensing process, in which over ten permits were acquired for the intended field operations.
Pilot injections were carried out in 2012 at the Carbfix pilot injection site in collaboration with ON Power, located 3 km SW of the Hellisheiði power plant in SW-Iceland. From January to March, 175 tons of pure CO2 were dissolved and injected at about 500 m depth at about 35°C, and from June to August, 73 tons of 75% CO2-25%H2S gas mixture from the Hellisheiði geothermal plant were injected under the same conditions. Results from the pilot phase were published in Science in 2016, which confirmed the rapid mineralization of the injected CO2.
We find that over 95% of the CO2 injected into the Carbfix site in Iceland was mineralized to carbonate minerals in less than two years. This result contrasts with the common view that the immobilization of CO2 as carbonate minerals within geologic reservoirs takes several hundreds to thousands of years. (Matter et al., 2016)
Mineralization of injected H2S were reported to occur even faster than CO2.
… essentially all of the injected H2S was mineralised within four months of its injection. (Snæbjörnsdóttir et al., 2017)
Moving to industrial scale
Following successful CarbFix pilot operations and early indications of rapid mineral storage, upscaling of CCS operations at the Hellisheiði power plant to industrial scale and simultaneously capture CO2 and H2S through a simple single-stage water scrubbing process. A full-scale capture plant for two of six high pressure turbines was constructed next to the turbine hall, which began pilot industrial scale operations in 2014. The plant has been running continuously, without incident ever since, with a doubling of the capture capacity in 2016. Plans call for bringing emissions from the power plant down to near-zero in the coming years. Cost of on-site CCS operations at Hellisheiði is US $24.8/ton - lower than the recent average price of one carbon quota in the EU Emission Trading System. By applying the Carbfix process to capture and mineralize H2S, instead of conventional sulfur removal methods, which involve either turning H2S to elemental sulfur or sulfuric acid, significant economic benefits have been achieved. These include the CapEx and OpEx of the Carbfix approach only amounting to between 3-30% of conventional sulfur removal methods.
Incorporation of Carbfix
Carbfix was established as a subsidiary of Reykjavik Energy (OR) in late 2019 and began operations as a separate entity on January 1st 2020. 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) in 2030.