Carbon removal from the atmosphere? Here's how the climate crisis battle is unfolding in Iceland

ByKimberlee Sakamoto KGO logo
Sunday, October 22, 2023
Climate change fight happening in lunar-like valley in Iceland
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The latest fight against climate change is happening in a lonely, lunar-like valley in Iceland, where carbon is snatched from the atmosphere and buried deep underground.

The latest fight against climate change is happening in a lonely, lunar-like valley about an hour outside of Reykjavík, Iceland. This effort is tackling the increase in carbon dioxide, or CO2, which is an increasing threat to our planet as a prime cause of global warming.

In the November issue of National Geographic, Nat Geo contributing author Sam Howe Verhovek talks about a technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

He shared details about a plant in Iceland that's using filters and fans to trap CO2. From there, they separate carbon from the mixture and shoot it deep underground where the CO2 fuses with basalt, which is a very porous rock found under the ground in Iceland and many other parts of the world.

"The reason [the plant] is sort of considered a gold standard for carbon removal is that once [carbon] has sort of solidified into rock, it's basically going to stay there," Verhovek said. "It's not like growing a tree, which is wonderful, but then the tree at some point will die, it will be chopped down, it will decay, it may be burned down, and then it would release its carbon dioxide."

Verhovek says this is why the technology of carbon removal has drawn so much attention.

In sending carbon deep beneath the surface of the planet, clean tech company Carbfix is hoping to help reverse the effects of fossil fuels.

According to Verhovek, there's 50% more carbon today than we had in the early to mid-1800s and that carbon is what's been slowly been heating up the planet.

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The downside to this technology, he adds, is it's very expensive at its current price point and it would need to be brought up enormously at scale to make a big impact.

"You would have to have literally millions of these devices operating in various parts of the world to really make a difference," said Verhovek. "If you're standing right at the point where [the carbon] is captured for that brief period of time, you're actually breathing air that is equivalent, in terms of how much CO2 it has, to what the air was like 200 to 250 years ago."

Despite the massive feat it would take to implement carbon capture technology across the world, Verhovek says this is just one of many ways scientists and entrepreneurs are working to fight climate change, which he stresses is real.

"It's hard to argue with physical facts," he said. "It is a fact that we have 50% more CO2 in the atmosphere than we did prior to the Industrial Revolution. At a minimum, that is really rolling the dice with the future of the planet."

Verhovek warns that hoping the problem will go away is not a solution.

"I just don't think it is a rational approach," he said. "Why wouldn't you want to try to figure out ways to bring the climate back into somewhat better balance?"

Nat Geo's November issue is available now at natgeo.com.

Here are 12 of the most promising removal strategies to date, to help in the fight against global warming and reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Here are 12 of the most promising removal strategies to date, to help in the fight against global warming and reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Graphic by Jason Treat, National Geographic

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The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of National Geographic Partners and this ABC station.