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A few pictures & stories from Iceland
Using warmth in the cold.
Hey Volties! As you know, I went to Iceland a few weeks ago. I was there at the invitation of Business Iceland, a public-private organization that (among other things) boosts the visibility of Iceland’s sustainable business community. They paid my way and shuttled me around to talk to various companies. Everyone was extremely kind and competent and professional — compliments all around.
There’s no way I’ll ever be able to pod about more than a fraction of it (though check out my Iceland-overview pod), so I thought I’d share a mini-travelogue with you subscribers.
Here, just for scene-setting, is a typical Iceland landscape: volcanic rock as far as the eye can see, covered in a thin layer of moss (that apparently takes decades to grow, so don’t step on it!), with a geothermal power plant in the background.
On our first full day, we visited the Svartsengi geothermal power plant, owned by HS Orka, Iceland’s biggest energy company. The coolest thing about it is the Resource Park that has more or less organically grown up around it, consisting of companies drawing on the plant’s power (or water, or steam) for their own innovations.
Here’s a slide that captures the range of companies in the park, from e-fuels to biotech to aquaculture:
I love how much cleverness has gone into stretching and maximizing the use of geothermal resources.
One of the places using some of the geothermal heat was this greenhouse, where a company called Orf Genetics is growing genetically altered barley that produces growth factors that can be used in cultured meat or human beauty products (🤯):
Here’s a bit of rocky coast on the Reykjanes Peninsula, windy as all hell but starkly beautiful:
Next was the Iceland Ocean Cluster, a group of startups working on various sustainable products derived from the country’s extensive fishing industry. The goal is to use 100 percent of the fish — everything on the table below is a fish-derived product, from fish heads for soup to collagens for soft drinks and snacks and beauty products to fish oils for health products. That stuff over on the left is made out of fish-skin leather (🤯):
Day three started about 20 km to the east of Reykjavik, at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant — at 303 MW, one of the world’s largest by capacity. It’s also quite aesthetically striking, and contains a cool little educational program for tourists.
Hellisheidi also has a growing ecosystem of companies around it, drawing on its various byproducts. One of them is Carbfix, a carbon-sequestration company that effectively carbonates the water brought up by the plant’s wells before it is pumped back down, where the CO2 mineralizes in Iceland’s basaltic rock. (You’ll hopefully be hearing more about Carbfix on Volts soon!)
Here’s one of their little pods, which allow staff to work on the pumps without being exposed to the freezing wind:
Vaxa Technologies, another company borrowing heat from the Hellisheidi plant, is growing microalgae rich in nutrients, akin to spirulina but without the taste and odor. It’s an energy-efficient way to boost the nutritional value of any food — we had some yogurt, bread, and pesto with the microalgae in them and they were all delicious. But the real highlight was seeing the racks where they are grown, lit by red and blue LEDs (they don’t bother with white light because the algae can’t absorb it, or so I vaguely recall):
Close by was Climeworks, which is capturing CO2 out of the air with giant fans. (Carbfix sequesters the captured CO2.) The company recently announced plans to expand US operations as part of DOE’s Regional DAC Hubs program.
Just for funsies, here’s a pic from the (world’s only!) live lava show, wherein a huge furnace running on biogas melts basaltic rock and pours it out in front of you. It’s pretty badass.
And finally, because I am a known lover of cute walkable streets, here’s a cute walkable street in Reykjavik:
There was much more — companies working on grid monitoring, grid balancing, EV charging, plastic recycling — but my wrists can’t take much more typing and also I forgot to take pictures of any of that stuff.
Anyway, Iceland is great. It was cool to see so much thoughtful innovation in such a small place, especially so much innovation around geothermal. It warmed my energy-nerd heart, even as my other parts froze.