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One Hot Island: Iceland

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

That is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Iceland, but it is! There isn’t anything like this island of Fire and Ice – Let’s just say below that ice there is a lot of red hot fire. Iceland has 130 volcanic mountains over 32 volcanic systems under its topography. Consider this Iceland, is the home to one-third of all the lava that ever flowed on Earth. Mother Nature vents here!

In the South closest to the city of Reykjavik, are the two on most active volcanic ridges. Because of their frequent activity Helka, with 18 past eruptions and Katla, thought to be the most dangerous are always kept on the radar. Throughout the island you will see seismographs stationed along the roads, just a reminder someone is listening. The last eruption of Katla occurred on October 2, 1918. Since then, there have been several smaller subglacial eruptions as well as periods of increased seismic and geothermal activity. Katla is the largest source of volcanic carbon dioxide in the world, with emissions accounting for up to 4%.

Mother Nature at her most powerful is awesome no matter where in the world you are; from raging seas to tornados cutting huge swaths across the plains, to flash floods that sweep away totally everything in its path, we all contend with the aftermath and the cleanup. But here is a place where Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring power is being harnessed for good.

Iceland is a pioneer in the use of geothermal energy, which taps the planet's natural inner heat and is abundant on this island due to its’ tremendous volcanic activity. Geothermal energy is used for both power generation and direct use applications, such as home heating, hot water, cooking, heated sidewalks, and roads.

Access to geothermal energy has prompted the authorities in Iceland to build heated sidewalks in Reykjavik, where 60% of the population lives! The sidewalk heating system is identical to the one that heats floors. Special mats are laid under the sidewalks surface. As a result, it allows you to move safely around them in the wintertime. Residents are not exposed to slipping. But in addition to the sidewalks, the streets of Iceland are already heated, no plowing necessary! It is important because all transport takes place in Iceland mostly by cars and buses.

Across all of Iceland, 90 percent of households are connected to a district heating system, geothermal power facilities currently generate more than 30% of the country's total electricity production, which is 100% from renewable resources. Iceland has a number of geothermal power plants. Yet only a small fraction of Iceland's geothermal capacity has been tapped. It's been estimated that by conventional use of geothermal, the available power in Iceland could be many more terawatt-hours per year.

I went back to Iceland in January with its only five hours of daylight but fell in love with it all over again. I was attending Icelandair Mid-Atlantic 2023 conference and sat down with Kathryn Ann Teeter, who was hoping to convince me to experience first-hand how green, sustainable energy is produced at one of the largest single-site geothermal power plant on the planet, at Hellisheiði ON Power plant, just a few minutes outside of Reykjavik. The clincher was she placed in my hand a rock solid core of carbonate minerals. I was so excited I could have been holding a handful of gemstones. I had just read about this and was all in and fascinated. This is a process that is used to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has attracted global attention as an important step towards reducing our carbon footprint.

Icelanders have been the innovators by developing solutions to reduce geothermal gas emissions, by filtering and re-injecting the carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in the geothermal reservoir dissolved in geothermal fluids. It is definitely a huge step in the right direction! Not only did Icelandic scientists pioneer geothermal, but now they invented “Carbfix” that commenced in 2007. The Carbfix process captures, permanently removes and stores CO 2 economically underground. The technology provides a complete carbon capture and injection solution, where CO 2 dissolved in water – a sparkling water of sorts – is injected into the subsurface where it reacts with favorable rock formations to form solid carbonate minerals via natural processes in less than 2 years.

Once considered a pipe dream, the capturing and storing CO₂ has in the last few years become an area of immense interest for high-profile investors, such as Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, who are searching for solutions to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

This technology can work in two ways. The first is called “carbon capture,” where the gas is trapped from the smokestacks of factories and power plants before it escapes into the atmosphere. A second, more challenging process, is “carbon removal” — withdrawing CO₂ from the air around us. Carbon capture can cut a company or government’s emissions to zero, while carbon removal can help offset its emissions, or even make its impact negative, by taking more CO₂ out of the air than it produces. Carbfix is doing both, hallelujah!

Time to visit Iceland: along with super jeeps, crampons and ice caving, whale watching, Golden Circle tours, looking for Puffins and Northern lights you must stop off at ON Power for geothermal experiences! Oh, just one other thing - leave time for Sky Lagoon; a nod to the Icelandic bathing culture, for the best interval of body rejuvenation.


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