A waste recovery plant in Switzerland has become the home of the world’s first commercial-scale Direct Air Capture carbon capture and storage system. The installation is expected to remove 900 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, Fast Company reports.
The captured carbon dioxide will be sold to a nearby greenhouse producing cucumbers and tomatoes, and may also be directed to beverage production plants in remote areas that need CO2 to produce sparkling waters or sodas.
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The installation consists of three repurposed shipping containers, each of which holds six CO2 collectors designed by Zürich-based Climeworks AG. “Small fans pull air into the collectors, where a sponge-like filter soaks up carbon dioxide,” Fast Company explains. “It takes two or three hours to fully saturate a filter, and then the process reverses: The box closes, and the collector is heated to 212°F (100°C), which releases the CO2 in a pure form that can be sold, made into other products, or buried underground.”
“You can do this over and over again,” said Climeworks cofounder and director Jan Wurzbacher. “It’s a cyclic process. You saturate with CO2, then you regenerate, saturate, regenerate. You have multiples of these units, and not all of them go in parallel. Some are taking in CO2, some are releasing CO2. That means that overall the plant has continuous CO2 production, which is also important for the customer.”
To make the process broadly commercially attractive, Wurzbacher acknowledged, “we still have to go down a couple of steps on the cost curve, but in these niche applications already today, we can offer competitive CO2.”
Ultimately, Climeworks hopes to pull large volumes of CO2 out of the air and store it underground, based on the IPCC estimate that carbon capture will have to hit 10 gigatons per year by mid-century. But Wurzbacher is realistic about how much his operations would have to scale up to make a discernible difference.
“The first plant in Switzerland can capture 900 tons of carbon dioxide in a year, roughly the same amount of emissions as 200 cars,” Fast Company notes. “The company calculated how many shipping container-sized units would be needed to capture 1% of global emissions; the answer was 750,000”—the volume of containers that passes through the Port of Shanghai over a two-week period. (h/t to EcoWatch  for pointing us to this story)