Climeworks: direct air capture breakthrough?

Climeworks is a private, Swiss company, founded in 2009, commercializing a direct air capture technology, to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. It has raised $125M by early-2021.

Its first CO2 removals facility is also running and a second is under construction. Current CO2 removal costs are likely above $1,000/ton. It uses a dry process with much lower water intensity than, say, Carbon Engineering.

The main innovation visible in Climeworks’ patents is a DAC plant with optimized air flow, passing CO2 through layers of fabric housing CO2-adsorbing materials. This is an important breakthrough to avoid steep pressure drops (and their resultant energy penalties) in DAC.

Based on reviewing Climeworks’ patents, we were unable to de-risk sub-$200/ton CO2 costs, which is the base case in our economic models.  

CO2 capture: a cost curve?

This data-file summarizes the costs of capturing CO2 from different sources, so that it can be converted into materials, electro-fuels or sequestered.

Specifically, we have estimated the full-cycle costs (in $/ton), ultimate potential (in MTpa) and other technical considerations, linking to our other models and data-files.

The lowest-cost options are to access pure CO2 streams that are simply being vented at present, such as from the ethanol or LNG industries, but the ultimate running-room from this opportunity set is <200MTpa.

Blue hydrogen, steel and cement place next on the cost curve and could each have GTpa scale. Power stations place next, at $60-100/ton.

DAC is conceptually attractive, as the only carbon negative technology, but if all CO2 molecules in the atmosphere are fungible, it is not clear why you would pursue DAC until options lower down the cost curve had been exhausted.

Direct air capture of CO2: the economics?

Direct Air Capture of CO2 will cost around c$200/ton of CO2 abated, all in, and apples-to-apples with other technologies assessed by TSE.  This data-file models out the economics of the process in detail (chart above).

Our model is based upon excellent technical disclosures from Carbon Engineering, which we have aggregated. Our data-file includes a full breakdown of the capital costs and the energy associated with each component of the DAC plant, plus an explanation of the process.

Stress-testing shows total CO2 removal costs will range between $150-300/ton of CO2,  flexing 18 input assumptions, such as WACCs, tax-support, cost-deflation, utilization, power prices, gas prices and water prices. (gas- and water-intensity of the process should be noted). Our key conclusions are written up on the first page of the data-file.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.