When it comes to global warming, carbon dioxide emissions are a hot topic. Fortunately, a Swiss startup has pioneered an effective way of capturing (and storing) CO2, turning harmful emissions into harmless rock formations.

Climate tech startup Climeworks AG, a Swiss company specialising in carbon dioxide (CO2) removal solutions, has recently announced a breakthrough process in an effort to help mitigate human-caused climate change. Through the use of a direct-air capture technology, the company was able to successfully suck CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground. This achievement has earned the company the world’s first certification of a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) services, with Climeworks direct air capture & storage (DAC+S) methodology rigorously tested and validated by DNV, an independent auditor.

How Does Open Air Carbon Capture And Storage Work

Direct-air carbon removal and storage is a revolutionary process that has been in the works since 2009.

At their facilities, Climeworks utilises large-scale industrial devices that act as vacuums, which are designed to intake massive quantities of ambient air. The incoming air is then filtered, with huge amounts of CO2 isolated as part of the process. Next, heat is applied to the filter, reaching temperatures close to 100 degrees Celsius. Water is then mixed in to facilitate the operation of pumps, which force the product deep underground into long term storage, turning into stone through the effects of mineralisation. This method mimics what naturally occurs in nature, where forests and trees absorb and store CO2 that occur in the world, only this is happening on a massive scale and with greater efficacy.

Although carbon capture is nothing new, this is the first time it has been independently audited to such stringent standards, adhering to quality controls and quantifying the impact of the entire process. That meant rigorous analysis of the end-to-end mechanisms, including measures of how much CO2 was being pulled from the atmosphere, transport and storage operations.

  • Plaque outside the Climeworks Iceland carbon removal facility.
  • Shot of the huge fan-like machinery that makes up the carbon removal plant.
  • Climeworks co-founders walking toward the Iceland facility.
  • Infographic explaining the Climeworks carbon capture and storage process.
  • Close-up of the machinery used at the Climeworks Switzerland facility.
  • Climeworks carbon capture facility in Switzerland

The Birth Of An Eco-Friendly Industry

Climeworks envisions that they will process one gigaton of CO2 by the year 2050.

Direct-air carbon removal and storage is a revolutionary process that has been in the works since 2009, when the Climeworks was co-founded by Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. Originally a spinoff of ETH Zürich, the Swiss capital’s premiere technical university, the duo began trialing their carbon capture technology in the lab, at the initial scale of milligrams. Fast forward to 2023, and the company is now measuring the removal of thousands of tons of CO2, thanks to the opening of their Iceland facility in 2021, which happens to be the world’s largest DAC+S plant. Climeworks envisions that they will process one gigaton of CO2 by the year 2050.

As it turns out, large-scale environmental impact attracts big business in the form of carbon offset credits purchased by large enterprises. Climeworks now counts Stripe, Shopify, Microsoft, Audi and Square amongst its clientele, and these recent developments are sure to attract even more interest from companies seeking to achieve net-zero emissions. The company is preparing to scale up operations, with another commercial facility planned for 2024, which can theoretically remove up to 4,000 metric tons of CO2 each year.

Whilst the cost of CO2 removal and storage for corporate clients remains confidential, Climeworks does offer options for individuals to offset their personal carbon emissions, through one-off purchases or subscription plans.

As the world transitions to green energy and more sustainable ways of living, large-scale carbon capture and storage appears to be a credible guardrail to keep our climate goals in focus. With global emissions hitting 36.3 billion tonnes in 2021, we’ve got a long way to go, however technological advances like these offer hope for the future.