A climate startup claims to have captured carbon dioxide (CO2) from the open air and stored it underground in an industry first.
Climeworks AG used direct-air capture technology to pull air from the atmosphere, filter it and bury it in an effort to mitigate human-induced climate change.
The Swiss-based startup is selling carbon credits to major carbon-emitting companies like Microsoft in order to offset their emissions.
Climeworks chief executive Christoph Gebald told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that it was the first time a company had captured and stored CO2 from open air at a meaningful scale using a third-party verified process.
“This is an important inflection point in the development of direct-air capture,” said Stacy Kauk, head of sustainability at Climeworks customer Shopify.
“It isn’t just science fiction. It’s reality.”
Climeworks uses giant vacuum-like devices to suck ambient air through a filter that traps massive amounts of CO2. This filter is then heated to close to 100C and then mixed with water in order to be pumped underground into stone storage designed to be kept out of the atmosphere for millenia.
The firm has commercial carbon capture facilities in Switzerland and Iceland, capable of removing roughly 4,000 metric tons of CO2 each year.
Carbon capture technologies have been criticised for the vast amounts of energy and resources required to build them, though Climeworks claims its machines offer one of the only solutions for massive-scale carbon removal.
Scientists have also warned that it will be a vital part of holding global net emissions below zero by 2050.
“Carbon capture and storage is going to be the only effective way we have in the short term to prevent our steel industry, cement manufacture and many other processes from continuing to pour emissions into the atmosphere,” Professor Stuart Haszeldine from Edinburgh University said in 2021 in response to criticism from green groups claiming that such technologies were a costly distraction.
“If we are to have any hope of keeping global temperature [increases] down below 2C then we desperately need to develop ways to capture and store carbon dioxide.”