Can fizzy drinks help us tackle climate change?

Imagine if we could capture climate-damaging carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and use it to make carbonated drinks?

That dream could soon become a reality thanks to Swiss company Climeworks, which plans to capture and use up to 900 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year from the atmosphere when its first commercial plant opens near Zurich in mid-2016.

Christoph Gebald, co-founder at Climeworks, described their “low tech” units in an interview with Bloomberg as “steel boxes with two openings and a fan that pulls air through a filter. The CO2 stays on the surface of the filter material.”

If it's so easy... then why hasn't it been done before? Carbon capture and storage is an emerging field of technology, however what’s hindered progress so far is a way to make the technology commercially viable on a big scale, while preventing further damage to the atmosphere.

But that’s where Climeworks comes in. Its first client is a Swiss agricultural company, who will pump the concentrated carbon dioxide from Climeworks' first plant into their four-hectare greenhouse.

The CO2 will then be absorbed by vegetable plants – tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce – where it is expected to enhance growth by up to 20%.

Other potential markets are carbonated drinks (such as soft drink, sparkling wine and beer), food preservation (packing fresh meat and vegetables to prevent oxidisation) and hospitals.

According to Bloomberg, these industries are normally supplied by the chemicals industry, which usually derives its carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

But that could all be about to change. Climeworks is in talks with “one of the largest fizzy drinks companies” and expects to sign a deal in the first half of this year. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo declined Bloomberg’s request for comment, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens!

While the carbon dioxide Climeworks removes from the air returns to the atmosphere when someone opens a can of fizzy drink, the company says its product has half the carbon footprint of what comes from the chemical industry.

The plant will be powered by electricity and waste heat from a local waste incineration facility – making use of the energy which is already being generated from the burning of rubbish and biomass.

“For every litre of CO2 that we suck out of the atmosphere, fossil fuels can stay in the ground,” Christoph Gebald said.

We like the sound of that!