As a natural carbon sink, there’s nothing quite as effective as trees.
Forests capture large amounts of carbon dioxide every day, but we can’t rely on them to eliminate carbon emissions entirely.
Perhaps we need a behemoth global-scale forestation project for that, and we might be on to something with the Plant for the Planet initiative, which would take about thirty years to materialize.
However, we need more urgent solutions if we are ever to keep global temperatures below the 2° C target agreed on by all parties under the Paris Accord.
Carbon Dioxide Sequestration: Turning CO2 Into Wealth
Carbon capture technology provides one of the most radical solutions to curb emissions by literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
That’s what the company Climeworks does, taking the carbon sequestration technology beyond the concept stage and proving its viability in real-world settings.
Climeworks is a Swiss startup that was spun at ETH Zurich, one of the world’s leading research centers in science and technology. The company uses their plants to capture carbon from the air and sell it to customers.
The pure carbon captured enters different industrial channels to serve various uses, such as food and beverages (carbonated drinks), energy (neutral hydrocarbon fuels), agriculture (airborne fertilizers), and other sectors.
Last year, Climeworks opened the world’s first commercial “negative emissions” plant, a carbon sequestration facility, in Iceland.
Then, the company opened a second one in Hinwil, Switzerland. Climeworks’ Hinwil system, put on top of a waste incineration facility, can remove 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
Now, the company has announced the launch of its third carbon removal facility in Troia, Italy.
Called DAC-3 (Direct Air Capture), this plant, which can capture up to 150 tons of CO2 annually, “will demonstrate the viability of large-volume energy storage through Power-to-Fuel technology in real life applications and will be operated for 4,000 hours over the next 17 months.”
Climeworks’ vision is to capture one percent of man-made carbon emissions by 2025. To put that into context, in 2017, global emissions were north of 32 gigatonnes. So, although one percent won’t amount to any palpable effect, it’s still a far-off goal.
At about $600 a tonne, Climeworks’ technology is too costly to be deployed on a large scale, and that will be the biggest roadblock for the company.
Climeworks may be the first to commercialize its carbon capture technology, but it isn’t the only company in the market.
Carbon Engineering, a startup based in Canada, is working on a direct air plant that would remove CO2 from the atmosphere at $94 a tonne, which is still high.
As the technology gains in maturity, its economic viability would increase, and with other players entering the scene, costs are likely to drop even more.