World’s first commercial Carbon Capture machine comes online in Switzerland

A machine that cleans the air by filtering out carbon dioxide has become a world-first by being the only commercial Carbon Capture Storage machine of its kind.

Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) is a process that takes carbon dioxide out of the air and stores it, to then be passed on to places where it can be used for other purposes. The machine has been switched on in Switzerland, and is expected to remove up to 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air each year

The plant has been launched by Swiss company Climeworks. Fitted to the top of a waste disposal building, the device captures carbon dioxide before it is sold on to other industries which use CO2 in their processes. The device will initially supply carbon dioxide on a continual basis to a nearby greenhouse, helping to grow vegetables.

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By securing a customer for the captured carbon, Climeworks hope to demonstrate that the initial costs involved in CCS technologies can be mitigated. Carbon dioxide is used in a number of industries including agriculture, food and drink, and the automotive industry.

Carbon Capture and Storage is a method of carbon sequestration, the process of removing a chemical from the environment and storing it in an organic or physical structure.

How does Carbon Capture & Storage work?

Carbon can be stored in different ways. The process takes place naturally in carbon sinks, such as soil or bodies of water. Alternatively, it can be artificially replicated; one firm is using carbon dioxide to make building materials.

Carbon capture is a growing sector. While it has historically struggled to take off due to high costs, there have been a number of advances made recently. Last year, Icelandic researchers pumped captured CO2 underground, causing basalt to react with the gas and forming limestone, isolating carbon for years.

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Despite the success of this technique, however, the costs can quickly spiral out of control. CCS is typically carried out at the source by using ‘amines’: an ammonia derivative which is used in the treatment of fossil fuel exhaust gases.

While these amines are effective, a new company – Carbon Clean Solutions – has engineered a new and improved catalyst which strips CO2 from exhaust fumes, while also reducing costs by as much as 40%. In 2016, an Indian firm also began to capture the carbon from its own coal boilers by working with Carbon Clean Solutions.

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The growth of the CCS industry has been given a boost in the UK, too, thanks to a recent round of funding. A grant of £6.1m was awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC).

The UKCCSRC is comprised of 11 organisations – five core and six partners – which are exploring various methods of carbon capture via a five year research programme, which will be covered by the funding.

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