A novel way to deal with greenhouse gases is to literally feed them to a greenhouse. This is what Swiss biotechnology firm Climeworks is doing near Zurich. Their industrial-scaled carbon-capture plant is set to draw carbon dioxide out of the ambient air and sell it to an agricultural firm to enhanced the growth of cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes by 20%.

Using a process called direct air capture (DAC), “normal ambient air is pushed through a fibrous sponge-like filter material that has been impregnated with chemicals called amines (derived from ammonia) which bind to CO2. Once the filter is saturated, the gas will be released by warming it with the heat generated by a nearby municipal waste incineration plant and then piped into a 4 hectare greenhouse.” The plant is to collect 2-3 tons of CO2 per day.

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How the carbon-capture plant operates

Climeworks Chief Operating Officer, Dominique Kronenberg says,

The American Physical Society estimated that on a large scale, CO2 could be captured for $600 per ton. We expect to equal that and eventually get costs down way below that.

The Climeworks plant is of modular design, fully automated to run 24/7 and is controlled via a key panel and touch screen display.

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Overview of the carbon-capture plant

The project, costing about 3-4 million Euros, is using funding from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy. These funds are being used to fine-tune the design of the plant to make it run more cheaply and efficiently during its three-year trial period. In the future, the firm plans on adding modules to catch additional CO2 that can be used with existing technology to produce liquid fuels. After the trial period, plans are for the plant to be a self-sustaining business.

Humans add about 40 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the air annually.

David Keith from Harvard University, founder of Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, which is working on its own technology to turn captured CO2 into fuels, says,

While there is no one silver bullet technology to end climate change, using direct air capture to make fuels if potentially scalable, in a way that biofuels aren’t because it doesn’t use much land or any other resources. The answer is really clear. If there are no restrictions on putting CO2 in the air, no incentives, no government price on carbon, then these technologies are dead, but so are other technologies, even wind power and solar power could be close to dead.

Nancy Loyan Schuemann

Nancy Loyan Schuemann is a writer specializing in architecture, safes, profiles, histories and a multi-published fiction and non-fiction author and is Nailah, Middle Eastern dancer.

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