Swiss company Climeworks plans to phase out the first-generation technology that made it a pioneer in the business of carbon removal. The change is a part of Climeworks’ strategy to stop selling the carbon dioxide that has been captured to businesses like Coca-Cola. Climeworks said it will instead concentrate on efforts to permanently bury the CO2 underground.
In 2017, Climeworks became the first business to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and market it as a product. Its Capricorn direct air capture (DAC) facility in Hinwil, Switzerland, opened at that time. Beyond serving as the cornerstone for Climeworks’ continuing expansion, Capricorn’s sheer presence marked a significant turning point for the fledgling carbon removal sector. Capricorn is essentially out-of-date climatic technology five years later.
Climeworks made clear in its announcement that it now prioritizes “scaling its permanent carbon dioxide removal.” Additionally, Capricorn was not designed to completely purge the atmosphere of the gas that heats the planet. It initially provided CO2 to a nearby greenhouse that used it to aid in the growth of vegetables.
Then, in 2019, Coca-Cola HBC Switzerland began purchasing CO2 to carbonate mineral water. According to Climeworks, that was the first instance of direct air capture technology being employed in the beverage business. Capricorn demonstrated to the world that it was possible to use commercial-scale CO2 collecting technology.
The challenge is that popping bottles of seltzer will eventually release that CO2 back into the air. And Capricorn, which started off as a demonstration project, was not capturing very much CO2. To really make a dent in climate change, a massive amount of carbon dioxide needs to be drawn down and permanently stored.
That’s what Climeworks’ newer efforts aim to do. In September 2021, it opened the largest direct air capture plant operating yet, called Orca which is capable of removing 4,000 tons of CO2 from the air a year compared to the several hundred tons of C02 Capricorn captures annually.
In June, Climeworks broke ground on Mammoth, which is expected to capture nine times more CO2 than Orca. Both Orca and Mammoth are strategically located in Hellisheiði, Iceland where relatively young basaltic rock formations can provide ample storage for the captured CO2 near the facility where it’s captured.
If this all sounds very cutting edge, that’s because it is. Before Capricorn, there wasn’t much work outside of labs to tackle climate change in this way. To be sure, there’s still a long way to go to prove that the technology, economics, and policy surrounding carbon removal can align enough to have a significant impact on the climate crisis.
Capricorn’s initial success has been part of that journey. Now, as the facility takes a back seat to more permanent carbon removal endeavors, Capricorn is marking another turning point for the industry.