The world’s first commercial facility that can extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and resell it has opened in Switzerland. This technology could help cut 1 percent of global fossil fuel emissions by 2025, according to the company that developed the new system.
Climeworks — a spinoff company from the Swiss science, technology, engineering and mathematics university ETH Zurich — built the plant at a site between a waste incineration plant and a large greenhouse.
Agricultural firm Gebrüder Meier Primanatura, which runs the greenhouse, will use the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) to enhance the growth of lettuce, the company said. The waste incineration plant will provide the heat and renewable electricity needed to run the facility, the company added.
“The plant will capture 900 tons of CO2 per year,” said Valentin Gutknecht, a business development manager at Climeworks. “The plant consists of several CO2 collectors, which are large boxes with filters inside. We blow air through these boxes for several hours, and after the filter is saturated, we heat the box up to 100 degrees [Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit] to extract the pure CO2 and regenerate the filters.”
Carbon dioxide emissions are a main driver of climate change, and current levels of atmospheric CO2 are unprecedented in human history. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization created by the United Nations to evaluate and report on the entire body of climate change science, 10 gigatons of CO2 need to be removed from Earth’s atmosphere every year to halt the pace of global warming.
Gebrüder Meier Primanatura estimates that the CO2 from the plant will enhance the growth of its lettuce by 20 to 30 percent. Climeworks previously partnered with Audi to research whether the technology could be used to manufacture synthetic fuels from air-captured CO2. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]
Climeworks envisions that it could launch 250,000 plants by 2025, which the company says would enable the technology to eliminate 1 percent of global fossil fuel emissions. In addition to the captured CO2, innovative new approaches to store, or sequester, carbon dioxide could remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere permanently, Gutknecht said.