A Swiss company says it has created the first machine that can commercially suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and reuse it for other purposes.
The Direct Air Capture (DAC) plant, built by Climeworks in Hinwil near Zurich, Switzerland can remove 900 metric tonnes (990 US tons) of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. This can then be used as fertilizer in a nearby greenhouse 400 meters away to help grow vegetables.
It’s a tiny fraction of the 10 gigatonnes of CO2 Climeworks says will need to be removed every year by 2050 to limit global warming. But the company says it’s an important step towards keeping global temperature increases below 2°C (3.6°F), as directed in the Paris Climate Agreement.
“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the 2-degree target of the international community,” Christoph Gebald, co-founder and managing director of Climeworks, said in a statement.
The company said it was working towards a goal of filtering 1 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2025. To do this, they suggest 250,000 plants like theirs will be needed.
The DAC has 18 collectors on top of a waste utilization plant, with fans on the outside sucking in air. Each collector removes the CO2 from the air, and then blows out the cleaner air again, via processes called adsorption and desorption.
In a few hours, the filters – which operate at 100°C (210°F) – become saturated with CO2. This can then be used commercially for other purposes. This includes “carbonated beverages” and “climate-neutral fuels and other materials”, according to Climeworks. By supplying CO2 to a greenhouse, Climeworks said the growth of vegetables could be increased by up to 20 percent.
“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,” the company added.
“In comparison to other carbon capture technologies, a modular Climeworks plant can be employed almost anywhere.
Earlier this year, a company in India said it had turned carbon dioxide from a coal-powered boiler into valuable chemicals such as baking powder. Climeworks seem to imply their system is more scalable and useful, however.
While carbon capture is interesting, reducing emissions is obviously a more desirable goal towards meeting targets set by the Paris agreement. If Trump goes through with leaving the agreement, however, then maybe we’ll need to look at other options.