Our two co-founders, Jan and Christoph, met on their first day of university at ETH Zurich and quickly became friends. Aside from their love of engineering, they both shared a passion for alpine sports and spent much time in the Swiss Alps. Here, they experienced the effects of climate change first-hand. Shocked by the retreat of the glaciers, they vowed to do everything they could to tackle climate change.
Together, Jan and Christoph embarked on a journey toward a solution that would empower everyone to take climate action. As engineers at heart, they poured their efforts into working on a technology called direct air capture, a way to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air. As a result, Climeworks was founded in 2009 and is now the leader in direct air capture (DAC) technology.
Why direct air capture?
In recent years, climate action has experienced a paradigm shift. It’s now recognized that drastically reducing emissions alone won’t be enough to halt climate change. The IPCC reports show that drastic emissions reductions are more important than ever, but on top of this, carbon dioxide removal is needed to get the world to net zero and keep global warming below 1.5 °C. But it’s no longer just the scientists saying this; individuals and businesses also agree. We need many carbon dioxide removal solutions working together to prevent further global warming and restore balance to our climate.
Other approaches to remove carbon include afforestation and reforestation (trees store carbon dioxide as they grow), bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage (known as BECCS), or enhanced weathering (fast-tracking the carbon capture process in minerals). The global capacity to store carbon dioxide is vast and lies between 5 and 30 trillion tons. As a carbon dioxide removal solution, Climeworks’ direct air capture and storage (DAC+S) is particularly effective because it’s highly efficient, permanent, safe, and measurable.
How Climeworks' technology works
It is a three-step process: air is drawn in through a fan located inside the collector. Once sucked in, it passes through a filter located inside the collector which traps the carbon dioxide particles. When the filter is completely full of CO₂, the collector closes, and the temperature rises to about 100°C - a very low temperature if we think that it is the same temperature that it takes to boil water to make a cup of tea! In this way, it causes the filter to release the CO₂ and we can finally collect it. You can read more here.
Why do we combine direct air capture with storage?
Direct air capture (DAC) is a technology able to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air and, when it is combined with storage (DAC+S), it is possible to physically remove the CO₂ from the atmosphere, as it is pumped deep underground safely and permanently. This technology can be used anywhere in the world and when powered by renewable energy or energy-from-waste, it’s one of the purest forms of carbon dioxide removal. This is exactly what we, together with our CO₂ storage partner Carbfix, are doing with the Orca plant in Iceland and will do with the Mammoth plant. You can read more here.
2009 Jan and Christoph founded Climeworks, developing their direct air capture technology during their doctoral studies at the Professorship of Renewable Energy Carriers of ETH Zurich.
2011 Climeworks closes its first financing round, providing for the construction of a first demonstration prototype, scaled up by a factor of 1000.
2014 The concept of modular CO₂ collectors is developed.
2017 Climeworks commissions the world’s first commercial-scale direct air capture plant in Switzerland and the world’s first carbon dioxide removal plant in Iceland.