The world’s first “negative emissions” plant is now active

Signal of change / The world’s first “negative emissions” plant is now active

By Anirudh Shah / 24 Oct 2017

Climeworks, a climate startup from Switzerland, has retrofitted a geothermal power plant in Iceland to actively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air whilst simultaneously generating power. The technique works by separating the CO2 from the air and then pumping it into water. From there, the water is channelled underground where basalt rock reacts with the CO2 to form minerals within two years. The minerals will lock the COin for millions of years.

So what?

The Climeworks project is only a pilot program that is capable of removing 50 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year; however it is the first such carbon capture system that has been able to show success in commercial applications. Jan Wurzbacher, Climework's director, said that eventually the company hopes to bring the costs down to $100 per metric ton of CO2. This would be much more cost effective than other carbon capture technologies.

Under the Paris climate agreement nations have agreed to aim to cap the global temperature rise at 1.5°C and scientists believe that we are emitting too much COto achieve this goal - in fact the current global emissions trajectory places a future temperature rise at 3.2°C. Therefore we need to start removing COfrom the atmosphere and not be content with just reducing emissions so that we can reach this 1.5°C target.

Climeworks is now looking for commercial partners who want to use their technology to cut into their emissions - the hope is that the economics of carbon capture become so favourable that the technology starts to be more widely adopted. An example of such a partner is the delivery company DHL. The nature of their business means that they will not be able to become a carbon neutral company as they use airplanes and there is no technology currently that can significantly reduce the emissions from planes. In order to balance this, DHL could pay Climeworks to remove those emissions from the atmosphere using direct air capture (DAC) technology.

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