Iceland is one of the most actively volcanic places on earth, and many wonder at the Icelandic nation’s persistence in living on an island that’s actively trying to cover them in hot lava. But necessity is the mother of creation, and the fact is that the mid-Atlantic ridge which crosses the country brings with it huge amounts of energy, which Icelanders have learned to use to their benefit. These are some examples of how Iceland has used their volcanoes.

Icelandic Volcanoes

HOT WATER

The first thing directly useful to Icelanders is the hot water. Rain water or seawater seeps into the ground until finding its way to hot rocks, then the pressure sends it to the surface again, where it comes out in hot springs.

In ancient times, people used it for laundry and bathing. Today, the water is pumped out of the ground and brought to the cities with pipes where it comes out of the tap, with a famous “rotten-egg” smell. It is also used to heat the houses, by running it through hot-water radiators.

By the way, the hot water used in cities in not “naturally hot water.” Rather, they take cold water and heat it up using the geothermal hot water. So there is no reason why the hot water should smell so bad. But the volcanic gases that we have in the power plant are then re-injected into the water pipes, because it “deactivates” the calcification that could clog the pipes rapidly.

 

ELECTRICITY

Since hot water and steam are abundant, it is possible to use it to drive turbines, and thus produce electricity. That is a major reason of why Iceland’s electricity is 100% renewable.

And why Icelanders don’t hesitate to leave the lights on ALL THE TIME! (Seriously, you’ve never seen such irresponsibility – your grandfather would throw a fit!).

You can visit such a power plant and actually see a great exhibition at Hellisheiði geothermal plant!

 

GREENHOUSES

Hot water and cheap energy allows Icelanders to create greenhouses heated by water and lit by growing-lamps. They usually grow vegetables such as paprika, cabbage, salad, cucumbers, or even strawberries, and they’ve also grown bananas.

But greenhouses can also grow medication; in the Reykjanes peninsula, GMO barley is grown to produce proteins for pharmaceuticals. The protein is spliced into the organism which then grows naturally, creating the protein. The plants confined to a hydroponic (soil-free) growing area, so the plants can’t escape or grow wild.

 

FISH

We use volcanoes to make fish grow. Or, more accurately, geothermal activity allows us to warm up water enough to breed some fish, in fish-farms.

 

SALT

“Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “volcanoes are igneous rock while salt is created by oceanic deposits” as you leaf hurriedly through your Encyclopaedia Britannica – “how can volcanos create salt?!?”

Well, my well-read friend; some entrepreneurs recently started using the abundant energy of Iceland to heat seawater and then harvest salt. Some have even started colouring the salt with charcoal, to produce a kind of “volcano-like” salt, which is quite good, with a hint of charcoal flavour.

 

SWIMMMING POOLS

This is not complicated to do when you have a lot of hot water; pools in Iceland are usually out-door and often have several hot tubs with different temperatures. Steam baths are easily made too, and the sauna is inevitable.

The most famous one is of course the Blue Lagoon, but there are many other public pools, spas and nature pools.

Pools in Iceland

DE-ICING

Even if the snow falls all the winter long, you have less risks of falling in the street here than in other Nordic countries because hot water pipes are often laid under the pavement to de-frost them, especially on the high street, Laugavegur. You will sometimes see weird shapes in the ice as the streets are suddenly clear of snow, thanks to those hot pipes.

 

FUELING CARS

What a sexy point to hear in these days, when cars are killing the planet and baby seals! The Svartsengi power plant had a nice idea: all the geothermal power plants release volcanic gases into the atmosphere, usually CO2. And some intelligent people noticed that if you put a lot of energy into water you can break H2O into hydrogen (2H) and one oxygen atom. And if you mix this with CO2 you create CH3-OH + O2 (methanol and oxygen).

This methanol is now sold in in gas stations in Iceland, and it is growing bigger and bigger. To make it, you need water, energy and CO2, and here we have too much of all three! And it even produces dioxygen. Furthermore, instead of importing dirty petrol that you burn here, and which creates CO2 in addition to the CO2 you expel in geothermal power plants, you cut it in half and use this CO2 twice. Super clever isn’t it?

If you’re interested in finding out more about Icelandic Volcanology you should stop by the Volcano House in Iceland – you can experience the Exhibition where you can touch different rock samples and ash from different eruptions, or see the Volcano Documentary Show every hour on the hour.