Swiss startup Climeworks is championing new technology that helps in the fight against climate change. While many sectors are focusing on reducing future emissions by developing more effective fuels and technology, Climeworks is in the business of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide already released by human activity, even so far as creating ‘negative emissions’ plants. Climeworks has just opened a facility in Italy that functions to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, and through a process involving just water and electricity, convert this into renewable natural gas.
Climeworks has been working to remove atmospheric carbon for a few years now. In 2017, the company launched the first ever ‘negative emissions’ plant when they quipped an existing geothermal plant in Iceland with carbon capture and storage technology. Excess heat and electricity generated by the geothermal plant was harvested and used to capture atmospheric CO2 and bury it in the ground.
The facility in Italy operated under similar carbon capture mechanisms, but the chief difference is that rather than burying the carbon, the plant combines with with renewably-produced hydrogen to make methane. The methane can then be used as any other natural gas would. However, when it is combusted it would leave no additional strain on the atmosphere as its very engineering is to be carbon-neutral. In theory, the facility could provide a renewable source of methane gas whose use would not significantly contribute to the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere.
Unlike most carbon capture and storage options, the capture-to-methane method can economically sustain itself. While helpful for the environment, the storage of CO2 does not typically yield extra profit but does incur additional operational costs. By using the technology to sustainably manufacture methane, Climeworks can turn a profit while still removing carbon from the air.
The facility is currently operating at a capacity that will allowing it to pull 150 tons of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere. While it is the first of its kind, the design is modular, meaning it’s easy for Climeworks to add on to the existing infrastructure and install additional collectors to increase production.