Swiss company Climeworks recently launched the world’s first commercial plant that captures atmospheric CO2 for supply and sale to a customer. The Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant features patented technology that filters carbon dioxide from ambient air, and will supply 900 tonnes of CO2 annually to a nearby greenhouse to help grow vegetables.
Founded by engineers Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher, Climeworks developed its technology to capture atmospheric carbon with a filter, using mainly low-grade heat as an energy source. The DAC plant has been installed on the roof of a waste recovery facility in Hinwil, near Zürich – operated by the municipal administration union KEZO – where the waste heat is used to power the DAC plant.
During the Climeworks capture process, CO2 is chemically deposited on the filter surface. Once the filter is saturated, the CO2 is then isolated at a temperature of about 100 °C. The pure captured CO2 gas can then be sold to customers in key markets, including commercial agriculture, food and beverage industries, the energy sector, and the automotive industry.
At the plant in Hinwil, Climeworks provides a continuous supply of CO2 through an underground pipeline to a greenhouse 400m away, operated by Gebrüder Meier Primanatura AG, to promote the growth of vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers. By securing this supply agreement, Climeworks has ensured the Hinwil operation is the world’s first direct air capture plant with a commercial customer – an important step for the future of negative emissions technologies.
The Hinwil plant will operate as a three-year demonstration project in cooperation with the partners Gebrüder Meier and KEZO, and with a contribution towards non-amortisable costs by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).
Negative emissions to meet the two-degree target
“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the two-degree target of the international community,” says Christoph Gebald. “The DAC-technology provides distinct advantages to achieve this aim and is perfectly suitable to be combined with underground storage. We’re working hard to reach the goal of filtering one per cent of global CO2 emissions by 2025. To achieve this, we estimate around 250,000 DAC plants like the one in Hinwil are necessary.”
Raw material for beverages, fuel and materials
The CO2 captured by Climeworks can be used to carbonate beverages or produce climate-neutral fuels and other materials. Capturing CO2 locally for industrial uses enables customers to reduce their emissions and lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, as currently most industrial CO2 is transported from fossil point sources via truck to industries on site. In comparison to other carbon capture technologies, a modular Climeworks plant can be employed almost anywhere.
In the coming months, Climeworks plans to launch additional commercial pilot projects in key target markets and wants to test its technology’s potential to deliver negative emissions by combining it with underground storage.
“With the energy and economic data from the plant we can make reliable calculations for other, larger projects and draw on the practical experience we have gained,” says Jan Wurzbacher.