Its aim is to capture 1% of global CO2 emissions by 2025
The new start-up Climeworks enters the fight against climate change by building giant air purifiers housed inside shipping containers which suck CO2 directly from ambient air. Recently, the Swiss company installed three such containers on the roof of a waste incinerator in Hinwil, a small town just outside Zurich, launching the worldâ€™s first commercial CO2 capture plant. Each container contains six CO2 filters, and each filter is able to take 50 tons of CO2 out of the air every year. The system also includes a large hot water storage tank and another two containers housing control equipment. â€œOne CO2 collector has the same footprint as a tree,â€ says Climeworks co-founder Jan Wurzbacher. â€œAnd it takes 1,000 times more carbon out of the air, in comparison to a tree that takes 50 kg. Itâ€™s a factor of a thousand. So in order to achieve the same, you would need 1,000 times less area than you would require for plants growing.â€
How it works
The direct air capture (DAC) plant works by adsorption-desorption, with fans blowing ambient air over the capture material for a time period of two to three hours until it reaches its capacity. The captured CO2 and water (which is a by-product of the process) are then released via heating. Through this process the CO2 is transformed to a pure form of carbon thatâ€™s then extracted and sold for commercial uses in different markets (fizzy drinks, renewable fuels, underground storage). The plant is now capable of capturing 900 tons of carbon dioxide a year (roughly equivalent to the emissions of 200 cars) and the carbon is currently sold to a nearby greenhouse, where it is used as fertilizer for fruits and vegetables.
The procedure is currently not economically viable, but the firm expressed confidence that they could bring down the cost from $600 per ton of the greenhouse gas to $200 in three to five years with a longer term target of $100. â€œWith this plant, we can show costs of roughly $600 per ton, which is, of course, if we compare it to a market price, very high. But, if we compare it to studies which have been done previously, projecting the costs of direct air capture, itâ€™s a sensationâ€, says Christoph Gebald, one of the companyâ€™s founders. This is indeed a significant improvement taking into consideration that previous research into the idea had assumed a cost of $1,000 per ton.
Their ambitious plan
â€˜The vision of our company is to capture 1% of global emissions by 2025, which is super ambitious, but which is something that is feasible,â€ Mr Gebald said. However he admits that this goal is currently not attainable and cannot be achieved by commercial means only. Political will is necessary, for example a price on carbon would play a positive role. The European Union and some other countries around the world have put a price on carbon for some major emitters, but environmentalists have complained it is too low and fails to reflect its true impact.
Â· 300 tons of CO2: Annual removal capacity of one shipping container-sized unit fitted with six Climeworks filters
Â· 225 million tons of CO2: Climeworks goal for CO2 capture in 2025, equal to nearly 1% of global emissions
Â· 100 units: Annual capacity of Climeworksâ€™ current production line
Â· 750,000 units: Number of units that would be needed to capture 225Mt CO2 in 2025
Â· 200 cars: Equivalent annual CO2 emissions that would be captured by a single Climeworks unit
Â· $700 per car: Annual cost to remove car CO2 emissions from the air, at current costs