Here’s a not-so-fun fact about the planet earth: Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years, according to Climate.gov. The last time the atmospheric CO₂ amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period. If you want to know how long ago that was, humans didn’t arrive on the scene until a million years later.
Removing carbon from the earth’s atmosphere is one of the keys to reversing the effects of global warming and a changing climate. One way to do that is through direct air capture, which takes carbon out of the air to store it underground. Once there, excess and legacy CO₂ emissions can no longer contribute to climate change.
Among the leaders in direct air capture is Switzerland-based Climeworks, which has been pioneering the technology since its founding in 2009. The company’s first direct air capture plant was launched in 2017. It now has 15 facilities, including the world’s first large-scale plant, which began operation last September in Iceland.
Climeworks operates in a small but growing segment of the carbon-reduction market, competing against only a handful of startups worldwide. The company’s focus is on capturing CO₂ and injecting it deep underground for permanent storage. Climework’s efforts are lending a hand in helping the world meet its goal of keeping global warming within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
It takes a lot of money to fund this kind of technology. In early April, Climeworks raised 600 million francs ($650 million) in a funding round led by Partners Group and GIC Private Ltd., with further participation from Baillie Gifford, Carbon Removal Partners, Global Founders Capital, John Doerr, M&G, and Swiss Re.
Climeworks will use the capital to scale its technology and broaden its commercial footprint.
“It is thrilling to see the appetite and support of globally leading investors towards the scale-up of our technology,” Co-Founder and co-CEO Christoph Gebald said in a press release. “This is a great milestone for our company as well as the entire industry.”
Jan Wurzbacher, the company’s other co-founder and co-CEO of Climeworks, said the funding round would play an important role in helping the company fulfill its mission of helping reverse climate change.
“Accelerating the scale-up of carbon removal capacity will play a crucial role in global efforts to keep global warming under 1.5°C, positively impacting the lives of billions of people,” Wurzbacher added. “And this is what we will do starting now.”
Climeworks’ direct air capture technology features machines that consist of modular CO₂ collectors which selectively capture carbon dioxide in a two-step process. The machines move large quantities of air over a special chemical that can filter out CO₂, creating a heated compound to release a pure stream of carbon dioxide to be injected underground.
The technology runs exclusively on clean energy, and the modular CO₂ collectors can be stacked to build machines of any size. Once the CO₂ is captured, it can be permanently and safely turned into stone through rapid mineralization, a natural occurrence in which the CO₂ reacts with basalt rock. The CO₂ can either remain in storage or be reused as a raw material.
Climeworks’ main direct competitor is Canadian startup Carbon Engineering Ltd., which partnered with Occidental Petroleum to build a million-ton capture plant. As Bloomberg reported, this size plant will require raising hundreds of millions of dollars upfront for construction and then tens of millions of dollars each year to operate. The partnership recently leased land in Louisiana where favorable geology would allow it to bury CO₂.