Commercial carbon capture plant

World’s first commercial carbon capture plant goes live

Image credit: Climeworks

A direct air capture (DAC) plant 1000 times more efficient than photosynthesis has gone live in Switzerland. The first ever commercial carbon capture operation removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and resells it to a nearby farm.

Humans emit 40 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. Even if promises are kept, and emissions are reduced around the world, a dangerous volume of CO2 will remain in the atmosphere.

Carbon capture systems are widespread, normally running in conjunction with power plants where CO2 is emitted, and its concentration is hundreds of times higher than in ambient air.

The extraction of carbon from ambient air has been shown to be possible, although thanks to relatively low concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, it has been widely dismissed as not cost effective. The DAC plant, based near Zürich, is the first commercial carbon capture plant in the world.

The three-year demonstration project is run by a relatively young company, Climeworks, and partially supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.

The idea of the DAC plant came to engineers Christoph Gerbald and Jan Wurzbacher when they visited the greenhouses of Gebrüder Meier Primanatura, an agricultural company ordering in tanks of CO2 via trunk to fertilise their cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. The engineers realised that by filtering CO2 directly from the air, they could sell it as a raw material via pipeline in a far more environmentally friendly operation.

Their first business plan for the plant was developed for a venture challenge course at ETH Zürich, where they were studying.

The plant has 18 CO2 collectors, which collect approximately 2.5 tonnes of carbon every day. Air is sucked through fans and forced to undergo absorption and desorption processes to remove carbon through its sponge-like filters, which are soaked with amines, chemical which bind to CO2.

The DAC plant is based on top of an existing waste utilisation plant near the Meier greenhouses in Hinwil, near Zürich. Waste heat from the plant is used to heat the carbon filters.

Every year, the DAC plant will be able to remove 900 tonnes of CO2 from ambient air. The CO2 can then be sold as a raw material to customers in various sectors, including farming. The nearby farm, which uses the captured CO2 as a fertiliser, is their principal client.

The CO2 could also be used to carbonate drinks and create carbon-neutral fuels by companies intending to reduce their dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels, and their overall carbon footprint.

Climeworks announced that the plant is a “historic step for negative emissions technology, earmarked by the Paris climate agreement as being vital in the quest to limit a global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius”.

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