Swiss Start-Up Captures Carbon from Air for Clean Fuels

by Contributor, Roy Tan.

Based in Switzerland, ClimeWorks is the leading company in the Direct Air Capture (DAC) industry.

The Swiss start-up aims to capture CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then stored underground, or used to manufacture carbon-neutral fuels.

Following the Paris Agreement, GHG emissions are estimated to reach 60 GtCO2e in 2030 under present policies. Due to the heightened ambition to stabilise global temperatures, adhering to the global carbon budget will require the elimination of carbon emissions from major sources by 2050. 

Given the challenges of eliminating distributed sources of emissions, negative emission technologies (NETs) that sequester carbon dioxide from the environment have become an integral part of climate change strategies adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

How it works

Direct Air Capture technologies are solutions that aim to directly extract evenly distributed COfrom ambient air in the atmosphere. Currently, the industry is still in its preliminary stages of development, consisting of several active companies concurrently designing and utilising variable DAC technologies that target different markets. 

The DAC design adopted by ClimeWorks relies on alkaline-functionalised adsorbents bonded to a porous solid support, which is held within modular “collectors”. The CO2 adsorption process is initially carried out at ambient conditions before the temperature-vacuum-swing (TVS) process. 

During TVS, CO2 is released through pressure reduction and heating of the system. The whole process is then repeated after a cooling phase. As the adsorbents only require a temperature range of 85–120 °C for regeneration, waste heat can be utilised, making it one of the lowest energy-consuming systems that yield high purity gaseous CO2.

ClimeWorks progress

Since its founding in 2009, ClimeWorks has developed multiple prototypes of its DAC technology and eventually constructed the world’s first negative emission plant in Iceland under the CarbFix2 project, alongside Reykjavik Energy

Since ClimeWorks’ plants use only energy from renewable sources or waste heat900 tCO2/yr has been captured from the air nominally without the need for any fossil-based power plant in proximity for operation. 

Based on comprehensive development goals for cost reduction and the data collected from all 14 DAC plants built and operated by ClimeWorks in Europe, the expected costs of CO2 removal and storage via mineralisation is projected to approach $100/tCO2 within a decade.

Towards a carbon-neutral future

Just recently in May 2020, Stripe, a tech start-up based in San Francisco has announced its commitment towards tackling climate change by spending an additional $1 million annually in carbon dioxide removal technologies. 

ClimeWorks was one of the selected solutions within the mix, stating ambitious plans to bury 50 tonnes of CO2underground in 2020 through its pilot project which includes the potential development of a bigger plant capable of capturing several thousand tonnes of CO2 annually.

Alongside more than 350 businesses that have pledged to match emission reduction targets proposed by the IPCC, Stripe has started the ball rolling for companies to invest in NETs.  

As pioneering companies emerge to support the upscaling of such technologies, greater cost reduction, and the proliferation of carbon dioxide removal solutions will be expected in the near future.