Zurich-based Climeworks AG has launched a direct air capture (DAC) demonstration project designed to pull 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year out of the atmosphere and store it underground.
It’s an initial step to a possible approach to drawing down some of the 33 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases that humanity will pour into the atmosphere this year.
“This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage,” Climeworks co-CEO Jan Wurzbacher told the Times. But the highly-touted Orca plant in Iceland “would have almost no impact” on atmospheric carbon even if it were 10 times the size, Inside Climate News notes, in its reprint of a story originally published in The Financial Times.
A successful demonstration would make Orca the biggest DAC project in the world. Its 4,000 tons per year of carbon capture would only be enough to offset the average emissions from 250 U.S. residents, Bloomberg Green writes.
Climeworks said it has started design work on a facility that would be 10 times the size.
But so far, “the Orca plant sells the most expensive carbon offset in the world, costing as much as almost US$1,400 a ton of CO2 removed and counting Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its customers,” the Times says. Other investors include Ottawa-based Shopify, automaker Audi, and reinsurance giant Swiss Re, which signed a 10-year, $10-million deal with Climeworks last month.
“Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan, prompting the accelerated development of the much larger plant using the same technology,” the Times adds. “Critics of direct air capture say the technology is too expensive and consumes too much energy to operate at a meaningful scale. But its profile has been rising, with President Joe Biden’s recent infrastructure bill including $3.5 billion for four direct air capture hubs.”
Climeworks still has high hopes of reaching a capture target of 300 million tons per year, Bloomberg writes. “But the timeline has changed, as it takes longer than we originally anticipated to build up an entire industry,” Wurzbacher said.