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A New Machine Can Suck Carbon Dioxide Directly from the Air


Climate scientists have been ringing alarm bells for decades begging us to keep the planet from warming another two degrees Celsius, after which point, change may become irreversible. Thanks to human enterprises that use fossil fuels—driving, flying, shipping, burning, manufacturing, etc—we’re already pumping so much carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere that the planet has been steadily warming to dangerous levels. In fact, CO2 comprises 82% of the greenhouse gases the U.S. produces.

Carbon Capture From the Air

Many renewable energy companies have tried to approach this through the private sector. Carbon capture is a burgeoning area of green innovation. A company in Switzerland called Climeworks has a bold new approach: sucking carbon straight out of the air and then reusing it to help farmers grow vegetables and for use in other industries. CO2 is especially valuable as an agricultural fertilizer for its ability to increase the growth of veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers.

Climeworks opened their first commercial plant of this kind in June 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the first to capture industrial levels of CO2 from the air, close to 900 tons of it every year, say its co-founders—or about as much as 200 cars produce. From there they plan to pipe that gas directly to vegetable farms and capture it for other industries such as commercial agriculture, food and beverage industries, the energy sector and the automotive industry.

While 900 tons sounds like a lot, Climeworks acknowledges that in order to make a significant difference, they’d need approximately 250,000 similar plants capturing the same or more CO2. However, it is a necessary first step in the goal to capture one percent of the world’s global CO2 emissions.

Credit: Source.

“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the two-degree target [for global temperature rise] of the international community,” said Christoph Gebald, co-founder and managing director of Climeworks.

Currently they’ve installed 18 collectors, as the units are called, on the roof of a waste utilization plant. “The fans on the outside serve to suck in the ambient air,” Christoph Gebald, co-founder and managing director, said. When the filter has taken in all the CO2 it can hold, the gas is separated by a heating process above 100 degree Celsius. From there, the gas travels by underground pipeline to a greenhouse run by Gebruder Meier Primanatura AG to grow vegetables.

The co-founders intend their plant to run as a three-year demonstration project that will prove the viability of such a project. They’re also investigating other forms of carbon capture such as burying gas underground.

“With the energy and economic data from the plant, we can make reliable calculations for other, larger projects,” said co-founder Jan Wurzbacher.

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  • Jordan Rosenfeld is author of 7 books and has published in: The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the New York Times, Pacific Standard, Quartz, Salon, the Washington Post and many more. Her writing can be found on www.jordanrosenfeld.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @JordanRosenfeld.

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