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Giant carbon-sucking commercial plant launches in Zurich

The world’s first commercial plant to extract carbon dioxide at industrial scale from the air and sell it directly to a buyer opened near Zurich on Wednesday. The machine pipes the gas to a nearby greenhouse to help grow vegetables.

The Swiss firm Climeworks turned on the so-called ‘Direct Air Capture (DAC)’ plant in the farming village of Hinwil, Switzerland. The plant aims to supply900 tonnes of CO2 annually to a nearby greenhouse to help grow vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

The machine sits on top of a waste heat recovery facility that powers the device. During the capture process, fans push air through a filter system and CO2 is chemically deposited on the surface of a filter. Once the filter is saturated, the CO2 is then isolated at a temperature of about 100 degrees Celsius.

In a statement, Climeworks described the plant as ‘a historic step for negative emissions technology’.

“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the two degree target of the international community,” said Climeworks co-founder and managing director Christoph Gebald in a statement.

The new plant is intended to run as a three-year demonstration project. The CO2 captured by the machine can be used to carbonate beverages or produce climate-neutral fuels and other materials. Capturing CO2 locally for industrial uses enables customers to reduce their emissions and lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, the statement said.

Beyond the initial local contract, the aim is to sell the pure captured CO2 gas to other clients in the commercial agriculture, food and beverage industries, the energy sector and the automotive industry.

In coming future, Climeworks plans to launch additional commercial pilot projects and to test its potential to deliver negative emissions by combining it with underground storage.

“We’re working hard to reach the goal of filtering one per cent of global CO2 emissions by 2025. To achieve this, we estimate around 250,000 DAC-plants like the one in Hinwil are necessary,” said Gebald.

Gebald and Climeworks co-founder Jan Wurzbacher established the spin-off in 2009 after working on air capture during postgraduate studies at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ).