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Climeworks: Removing carbon to reach net zero

If the world is to succeed in reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, rapid action on a massive scale is required. But climate science is clear that reducing emissions is not enough to reach net zero – it is necessary to actively remove unavoidable CO₂ emissions from the air too.

Climeworks, to remove CO₂ directly from ambient air  

In 2021, Climeworks launched Orca, the world’s first direct air capture and storage (DAC+S) plant, making CO₂ removal on a large scale a reality. In May 2024, Climeworks unveiled its largest DAC+S plant yet, Mammoth, which is about ten times bigger than Orca. With DAC+S, Climeworks removes CO₂ from the air and stores it underground permanently where it can no longer have an impact on global warming. But this is just the beginning.

In order to reach net zero by 2050, we need to remove billions of tons of CO₂ from the air,” says Andreas Aepli, CFO at Climeworks, which was founded in Switzerland in 2009. That means scaling up fast – and in order to do that, Climeworks needs a banking partner to streamline global growth.

For those who move the world: Climeworks & BNP Paribas

Climeworks is a Swiss company that was founded in 2019. It is developing and perfecting its technology to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air, which contributes to mitigating climate change. This efficient removal solution is combined with underground CO₂ mineralization to provide safe, permanent storage.

We're fighting a global problem, so we really want global partners. BNP Paribas is a truly global bank, so we were excited to find a partner that can support us completely during our international expansion,” adds Aepli, pointing to cash management, treasury services, foreign currency management, and opening bank accounts, all through a single digital platform.

In May 2024, Climeworks unveiled its largest DAC+S plant yet, Mammoth, which is about ten times bigger than Orca.

Scaling up carbon removal solutions

But it's not just banking services: Climeworks also needs capital to fund its growth, from debt and equity to project finance and access to public sector funding. Climeworks operates the world's two largest direct air capture and storage plants in Iceland, called Orca and Mammoth, but is expanding globally. For instance, the company plans to build three projects in the US as part of the US Department of Energy's DAC Hubs program and is exploring Kenya, Canada, and Norway as further promising locations. Not only will these plants be significantly bigger, but crucially they will also be more efficient. 

As well as its global reach, Alexander Lokhmatov, Head of Technology Coverage at BNP Paribas Switzerland, highlights two other key reasons why Climeworks chose to partner with the bank in 2023: firstly, its speed and flexibility, which is critical to accompany Climeworks’ rapid growth; and secondly, a genuine sustainability mindset. “Climeworks is an important player to reach net zero, which is at the heart of the bank’s climate strategy,” says Alexander, highlighting the bank’s Low Carbon Transition Group that provides tailor-made solutions for climate tech companies like Climeworks. “It's in the DNA of BNP Paribas to support innovative companies like Climeworks to scale up globally,” he adds.

BNP Paribas is a truly global bank, so we were excited to find a partner that can support us completely during our international expansion.

Andreas Aepli & Alexander Lokhmatov

CFO at  Climeworks / Head of Technology Coverage at BNP Paribas

The faster we can get to scale, the faster we will be able to bring the cost down and make this solution accessible for a much wider market,” says Aepli, underlining the importance of securing long-term agreements with companies from a wide array of sectors. So far, Climeworks has more than 150 clients including Microsoft, BCG, JPMorgan, UBS, Swiss Re, the LEGO Group and H&M Group.

Over the last 15 years, Climeworks has hit several important milestones. First, with the launch of Orca in 2021, Climeworks first combined its technology with permanent mineralization of CO₂ for storage underground – in other words, turning it into stone. The second came with the opening of its Mammoth facility. By 2030, Climeworks’ technology will be rolled out globally with its Megaton project, while its Gigaton project aims to achieve climate impact at scale by 2050.

Both carbon removal and reducing emissions are necessary  

It is paramount to understand that carbon removal and emissions reduction must be scaled up simultaneously. “What we don't want carbon removal to be is an excuse not to reduce carbon emissions. We need to do both, reduce and then remove what we cannot reduce,” emphasizes Aepli, pointing out that emissions are not being reduced quickly enough, with about 40 billion tons of CO₂ still being emitted annually.

We can reduce that, but we can't reduce all of that,” he insists, with climate scientists from institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) calling for emissions to be cut by 90% by 2050. In addition, it is necessary to remove 6-16 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere due to historic emissions since the Industrial Revolution. “The priority is to reduce emissions, but without carbon removal, we will not get to net zero” warns Aepli. 

There is a long road ahead. Climeworks’ current capacity to remove carbon is still in the low thousands of tonnes per year. “We need to get to billions of tonnes. Our founders started with milligrams in the lab, so we're already more than halfway there,” says Aepli. “But to reach climate-relevant scales, we need an entire carbon removal industry with strong partners to grow alongside Climeworks. We still have 26 years to make it happen, but we had better get going now.”

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