Climate models indicate that to cap global warming at well below 2 °C over preindustrial levels, we’ll need to remove gigatons, or billions of tons, of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon-scrubbing machines are an attractive option for doing so because they require far less land than natural solutions like reforestation, and you can more reliably measure how much greenhouse gas is sequestered. But today, so-called DAC technology is in its infancy.
Climeworks is among the first companies to try to commercialize it. Using air collectors that draw carbon in and trap it on specialized filters, Climeworks is building modular and scalable DAC plants powered by renewable energy. In 2017, the company opened the world’s first commercial DAC plant in Switzerland, which sold captured carbon to customers like Coca-Cola. In 2021, Climeworks launched Orca, the first commercial DAC plant to capture carbon and store it permanently underground, in partnership with Carbfix.
Earlier this year, Climeworks provided the world’s first carbon removal services using DAC to Microsoft, Shopify, and Stripe.
- Industry: Carbon removal
- Founded: 2009
- Headquarters: Zurich, Switzerland
- Notable fact: Before Climeworks was sending captured carbon underground for storage, the company was using it to grow tomatoes and cucumbers at a greenhouse near the company’s first commercial plant in Hinwil, Switzerland.
Potential for impact
If widely deployed, DAC technology could permanently reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, by pulling gigatons of carbon out of the air and piping it into underground reservoirs where it is incorporated into rocks.
Through its first commercial plants, Climeworks is doing the early learning necessary for DAC to eventually reach gigaton scales. It’s also demonstrating that the DAC process can be climate friendly. Unlike other flavors of DAC, in which fossil fuels are burned to produce the heat needed to release captured CO2 from a liquid solvent so that it can be stored, Climeworks uses a low-temperature approach that runs entirely on renewable energy.
And while some companies want to use carbon captured via DAC to pump more oil out of wells (a controversial process known as enhanced oil recovery), Climeworks is permanently storing the greenhouse gas underground.
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