World’s first commercial-scale air scrubbing plant launched in Switzerland

The world’s first commercial plant to capture atmospheric CO₂, which simultaneously boosts air quality and captures the gas for resale, has been launched in Switzerland

The direct air capture (DAC) plant, located near Zurich, filters 900 tonnes of CO₂ annually from the atmosphere to supply to a local greenhouse, where it will be used to grow vegetables, replacing fossil industrial CO₂.

The first of its kind, the air-scrubbing technology used in the plant has been deemed crucial to the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global temperature rises to 2°C.

The plant, developed by Climeworks, makes use of patented technology to filter CO₂ from ambient air. The filter captures atmospheric carbon using mainly low-grade heat as an energy source, with this first DAC system installed on the roof of a waste recovery factory, where it can use the factory’s waste heat as power.

As the first commercial-scale air scrubber to begin operations, the plant could be the first example of a whole new approach to combating climate change.

“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the two-degree target of the international community,” said Christoph Gebald, co-founder and managing director of Climeworks. “The DAC-technology provides distinct advantages to achieve this aim and is perfectly suitable to be combined with underground storage.

“We’re working hard to reach the goal of filtering one per cent of global CO₂ emissions by 2025. To achieve this, we estimate around 250,000 DAC-plants like the one in Hinwil are necessary.”

The capture process sees CO₂ chemically deposited on the surface of the filter which, once saturated, then isolates CO₂ at a temperature of about 100°C. The captured gas can then be sold onto markets such as the energy sector, commercial agriculture, the automotive industry and food and beverage industries.

At present, the important customer is the aforementioned greenhouse, with Climeworks providing a continuous supply of CO₂ to assist with growing vegetables. By securing this agreement, Climeworks have made their operation the first direct air capture plant with a commercial customer.

Operating as a three-year demonstration project in co-operation with the partners Gebrüder Meier (operators of the greenhouse) and KEZO (operators of the factory), it is hoped that this will serve as the first step to far broader commercialisation.

The newly installed air scrubber. Images courtesy of Climeworks / Julia Dunlop

With such a strong case for commercialisation, Climeworks has set its sights on expansion. Compared to other carbon capture technologies, the Climeworks DAC’s modular design can be employed almost anywhere.

The company is planning to use this initial success to launch additional pilot projects in other markets, and plans to test the technology’s potential in combination with underground storage.

“With the energy and economic data from the plant we can make reliable calculations for other, larger projects and draw on the practical experience we have gained,” said Jan Wurzbacher, Climeworks co-founder and managing director.

If the company continues to improve on its success, and expands its operational capability, it is possible that such technology could play a lead role in combating. In particular, with Climeworks’ easy deployment, we could soon see direct air capture broadly utilised, from factory to city.

DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”