The carbon dioxide capture plant. Photo: Climeworks

Climeworks, a spinoff company created by two engineers from ETH Zurich, is the world’s first facility to take carbon dioxide from ambient air and sell the concentrated gas for commercial use.

The facility, which opened this week, is situated between the KEZO waste incineration plant and a large greenhouse operated by Gebrüder Meier Primanatura near the village of Hinwil in Switzerland.

Climeworks’ facility operates by drawing air into its air capture plants, where the atmospheric carbon chemically binds to a filter. Once the filter is saturated with CO2, it is heated to about 100 C. The CO2 is then released from the filter and collected as concentrated gas, while the clean air is sent back into the atmosphere. The filters can last for several thousand cycles, according to the company.

The concentrated CO2 gas can then be sold to companies in a variety of markets, from food/beverage to commercial agriculture or the automotive industry.

The Gebrüder Meier Primanatura greenhouse plans to use the concentrated CO2 to boost lettuce growth, and Climeworks’ other neighbor, the waste incineration plant, provides the heat and renewable energy needed to run the facility. 

Through this collaboration, Climeworks’ technology could increase the greenhouse’s crop yield by 20 to 30 percent.

“Our direct air capture approach has several advantages over other carbon removal technologies: it does not require water or depend on arable land; has a small physical footprint; and is scalable,” wrote Climeworks’ founders.

The technology was first created by the company’s founders – engineers Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher, when they attended ETH Zurich. However, at that time, the technology was only capable of extracting a small amount of CO2.

The process has since been perfected, and now 900 tons of CO2 per year can be collected.

The engineering duo’s vision is to capture one percent of global CO2 emissions by 2025. To do this, they would need to install around 750,000 shipping containers filled with CO2 collects. According to Gebald and Wurzbacher, that amount of containers is the equivalent of how many pass through the Shanghai Harbor in two weeks.  

The project has been supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.