Environment, News, Science

“Orca” Removes Greenhouse Gas from the Air

Photo: Climeworks.com

A new machine that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air could help in the fight against global warming.

The “carbon capturing” device, called Orca, began operating in Iceland in September. The name comes from the Icelandic word orka which means energy.

Carbon dioxide (also known as CO2) is a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels like oil and gas.

CO2 is one of the main causes of global warming. Orca can take CO2 out of the air and send it deep into the ground, where it is turned into stone.

The machine was invented and made by a Swiss company called Climeworks.

Orca is made up of four sections which look like giant air conditioners stacked together. Each section contains 12 large fans that suck air from outside into steel compartments.

Inside, the air passes through a filter which gathers the carbon dioxide. It is then heated to a high temperature so the CO2 can be collected from the filter.

Then, the CO2 is mixed with water and put deep in the ground into a type of rock called basalt. Basalt causes the CO2 mixture to turn into stone after two or three years.

Orca is an experimental device. It was built to demonstrate that it is possible to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Orca can remove 4,000 metric tons of CO2 from the air each year. That’s about the same amount as the emissions produced by 850 cars in a year.

In order to remove enough CO2 to make a big difference to global warming, much larger devices like Orca would have to be built in many countries around the world.

Some environmental activists say governments should spend more time and money on reducing the amount of greenhouse gas we produce each year, instead of investing in carbon capture methods.

But others say that, in order for countries to meet their goal of net zero emissions by 2050, they will need to do both: reduce new emissions and remove the carbon dioxide already in the air.


The article mentions that burning fossil fuels produces the greenhouse gas CO2. What are “fossil fuels” and where do we obtain them? Why do we burn them? Could we do without them–are there alternatives?

Why is carbon dioxide known as CO2?

The article says that in order to clean up the air around the world, many Orca-type machines would have to be built. Who do you think should build and pay for them? Why?

Research other inventions that are helping to clean up the earth and air. Which ones do you think may be most effective?


How Orca Works (3-minute video by Al Jazeera news agency): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbXpUaZYnlA

Article about Orca in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/09/worlds-biggest-plant-to-turn-carbon-dioxide-into-rock-opens-in-iceland-orca

How is Carbon Dioxide Removed from the Atmosphere? (This site is a bit more advanced but has excellent photos): https://climeworks.com/co2-removal

Orca on the Climeworks website: https://climeworks.com/news/climeworks-launches-orca

Four Places to Cut Your Carbon Emissions, from the DavidSuzuki.org website: https://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/four-places-cut-carbon/ 

Article about Orca in The Economist: https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2021/09/18/the-worlds-biggest-carbon-removal-plant-switches-on

Reuters article: https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/worlds-largest-plant-capturing-carbon-air-starts-iceland-2021-09-08/