Already the largest carbon removal plant in the world, Climeworks can now also claim to have raised the largest sum of any carbon dioxide removal company after investors put up US$650 million to fund the start-ups’s effort to capture more than a million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2030.
“So far the plant can capture only about 4,000 tons each year, roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of 600 people living in Europe,” writes Bloomberg Green. “The start-up needs to grow quickly if it is to contribute meaningfully to the billions of tonnes of negative emissions that will be needed by 2050 to meet global climate goals.”
Carbon removal is not a silver bullet that will save the world from climate change. But according to much of the modelling cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC0, it is now essential to keep global temperatures within a 1.5°C rise from pre-industrial levels, Bloomberg says. As one of a handful of companies rising to the challenge, Climeworks removes atmospheric carbon by moving large amounts of air over a carbon-filtering chemical that is then heated to remove the CO2 to inject it underground.
The process is very energy intensive, but Climeworks CEO Christoph Gebald says the company “is committed to using only renewable or sustainable energy sources.” That commitment is essential to make the carbon removal effort effective, Bloomberg says. Without access to cheap renewables, the technology could easily burn more carbon than it captures, while consuming energy that could be used for other decarbonization efforts.
Climeworks will use the funding to build a 40,000-tonne capture plant in the next three years. Norway, Oman, and North America are all on the list of possible locations for the plant, though Iceland is an early favourite because of its geology. In the meantime, Climeworks is rivaled by other carbon removal companies like Canadian start-up Carbon Engineering Ltd.—which is partnering with Occidental Petroleum Corporation to try and build a million-tonne capture plant—and U.S.-based Global Thermostat.
While its proponents see carbon removal technology continuing to expand to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts, “experts also stress that they’re not a substitute for reducing emissions,” writes Bloomberg. But “the world has left the task of cutting emissions so late that both options have to be ramped up.”
The IPCC is also concerned that carbon dioxide removal technologies can consume large amounts of water, contributing to water scarcity, and some of them can result in the Earth reflecting less sunlight, creating the risk of accelerating the pace of climate change.