Carbon removal

Is Climeworks closing in on an answer to DAC’s energy problem?

The direct air capture company says it can cut costs and energy needs in half with its latest tech innovations.

June 4, 2024
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Photo credit: Climeworks

Photo credit: Climeworks

When the Department of Energy announced the winners of $3.5 billion in funding for direct air capture projects last summer, $50 million went to Project Cypress in Louisiana. DOE said the money should fund the Climeworks and Heirloom project for up to three years, and is devoted to planning, design, and community engagement activities. 

Now Climeworks — which was one of the very first carbon removal companies to hit the market back in 2009 and which currently operates the world’s largest DAC project — has announced technical upgrades to make that money go farther.

  • The top line: When it comes online sometime around 2029, Project Cypress will feature a cheaper, more durable, more energy efficient version of Climeworks’ tech, the company said today. The “Generation 3” upgrades to filter materials and plant design, which Climeworks says will cut both costs and energy consumption in half, will be deployed at secured project sites moving forward.
  • The market grounding: DAC, which involves splitting carbon dioxide molecules from air, remains one of the most expensive forms of carbon removal despite some major investments from the tech industry and beyond. It also tends to be extremely energy intensive — by some estimates the average price is around $600 per ton. And despite a growing landscape of developers, the technology’s carbon removal footprint is still extremely small. 

To make what Climeworks touts as massive gains on some of DAC’s biggest challenges, Project Cypress will employ both a different structure than its prior plants, and a new materials mix.

This third generation technology increases surface contact between the air and filters, which makes capturing carbon easier and faster. Maxime Tornier, who leads the company’s research and development and new product programs, told Latitude Media that these proprietary new filter materials then release the captured carbon more easily and with less energy. And they also last three times longer than prior versions, a gain that can impact everything from deployment timelines to overall cost.

Meanwhile, there are several key drivers of the cost declines, Tornier said. For instance, the upgrades will yield a 50% reduction in capex, and a 70% reduction in operation and maintenance costs. The latter, he added, is down to optimized product design and scale. 

And of course, the lower energy intensity of the new tech means that electricity prices are also lower, he said.

A rendering of the Gen 3 plant (Image credit: Climeworks)

Boosting the market

The CDR market has seen some major movement in recent months, including massive purchases from the likes of Microsoft and the launch of a U.S. government procurement program.

Climeworks itself has been behind some of those developments, such as the launch of its Mammoth plant in Iceland, which also boasted efficiency improvements (though less dramatic than those to be debuted in Louisiana). 

And the company made a foray into carbon removal brokering. With that move, Climeworks is attempting to boost the market by offering purchasers a single contract for a portfolio of removal solutions, the company said.

The list of suppliers approved for inclusion in those portfolios remains small, and is not yet public. Only around 3% of the suppliers Climeworks met with in the last year met its bar for “high quality” removal — a definition that also isn’t yet public, but which Climeworks has said it will eventually publish.

Currently, Torner said, Climeworks is not considering licensing its Generation 3 technology to other solid sorbent DAC companies.

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