14 August 2012

Recycling Carbon Dioxide in Iceland

Today, I went on a tour of the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant near Grindavik, Iceland (pictured above). During the visit I learned that the facility produces >300 megawatts of electricity plus hot water for the region (or about 1/3 of a conventional nuclear power plant). Of particular note is that the plant facility is also home to Carbon Recycling International, a joint US-Iceland company that is actually turning carbon dioxide into liquid methanol fuel.

Our host at the power plant explained to us:
"We don't see carbon dioxide as a pollution stream, we see it as a resource."
The use of methanol as a fuel additive in Iceland is limited by regulations, however, the Svartsengi production has potential to increase dramatically and a second plant further north is in the works. Presently, only 10% of the carbon dioxide released by the Svartsengi power plant is used by the co-located methanol facility.

According to a recent news article:
Benedikt Stefánsson, Manager of Business Development at Carbon Recycling International (CRI) which operates the only methanol plant in the country at Svartsengi in GrindavĂ­k, says present regulations do not assume higher than 3% methanol mixed with gasoline. Iceland, however, is committed to increasing the country's fuel consumption coming from renewable fuels to 10% by the year 2020. Changes are being made in this regard and Benedikt is hopeful these changes will be a step in the right direction. It is possible to produce 5 million liters of methanol in the Svartsengi plant. 
´´We have also been exploring the possibility of producing 40 to 80 million liters from waste [CO2],'' he says. "Additionally, it´s possible to produce much more with electricity. Indeed, there are already projects in place in the energy sector which could allow us to produce fuel to meet the total demand.´´ The fuel consumption of the entire car population is around 350 million liters annually.
The power plant official we spoke with even spoke of an export market for Iceland for methanol. What seems clear is that energy innovation is moving ahead on many fronts, many of which are quietly out of sight, unless you are looking. In Iceland, carbon capture and "recycling" is now taking place. Can it be done at larger scale at economic returns? It bears watching.