The first commercial scale plant capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be built in Switzerland, with the greenhouse gas to be used to improve growth of vegetables.
The plant will be operated by Zurich-based Climeworks, a spin-off company from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), and uses so-called Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology, which relies on a novel filter to extract carbon dioxide from the ambient air.
The gas binds to the surface of the reusable filter. When the filter is filled to its capacity, it is heated to 100°C to release the CO2, which will be used in a nearby greenhouse to enhance vegetable growth.
Agricultural firm Gebrüder Meier Primanatura, which owns the greenhouse, estimates the CO2 could enhance growth of lettuces by up to 20 per cent.
The plant will have a capacity to remove 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a year and is due to start operation by mid-2016 as part of a three-year pilot project designed to enable full industrialisation of the technology.
Climeworks foresees similar plants could supply beverage companies with CO2 for fizzy drinks or deliver air-captured CO2 for Power-to-Gas / Power-to-Liquids technologies designed to store the energy from renewable electricity by producing synthetic fuels.
With a development cost of between €3-4 million, the plant will enable engineers to precisely determine the operational cost of the technology before further applications are developed and deployed worldwide.
The plant will be built in the village of Hinwil, at the site of a recycling facility, which will supply it with heat and power.
Climeworks said the project is a crucial milestone on the way towards closing the carbon cycle, where CO2 emitted from any source or even the past can be captured and re-used for the production of carbon-neutral fuels.
Climeworks has previously trialled the technology with its CO2 Kollektor – an industrial-scale CO2 capture unit capable of removing 50 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.
The Kollektor is a basic unit of the plant, which can be built in a modular way to meet the needs of individual customers.