Climeworks Review: Should You Buy a Subscription To Remove Carbon From the Air?

In a bid to reverse climate change, Climeworks’ direct air carbon capture facility is sucking CO2 out of the air. For as little as $8 a month, you can sign up to permanently remove carbon from the environment and offset some of your carbon footprint. Learn if it’s a good idea.

SustainFi September 15, 2021

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Summary

  • Climeworks is a Swiss company that runs the world’s first commercial direct air capture facility, Orca
  • Orca permanently removes carbon dioxide from the air
  • Climeworks offers subscription packages starting at $8 / month to offset your carbon footprint

Pros

  • Carbon offsets from direct air capture are certain and measurable
  • Offset your carbon footprint from activities you can’t avoid

Cons

  • At over $1,100 / ton, Climeworks is by far the most expensive way of offsetting your emissions
  • Buying offsets may encourage some people to not reduce avoidable carbon-emitting activities

What is Climeworks? 

Climeworks is a Swiss company that runs the world’s first commercial direct air capture facility, Orca. The facility permanently removes carbon dioxide from the air. (Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane are the primary cause of climate change.)

Climeworks is the first company to sell offsets from direct air capture directly to consumers. This way, you can offset your carbon footprint from things like driving, flying, heating or cooling your home, and buying goods online.

As of September 2021, more than 8,500 people from 56 countries have signed up. Climeworks also has corporate customers like Microsoft, Shopify, and reinsurance giant Swiss Re.

Is it really possible to filter CO2 out of the air?

Yes. Direct air capture (DAC) technology lets us pull carbon dioxide out of the air using large fans and chemical reactions to separate CO2, releasing the rest of the air. Multiple studies argue that to achieve climate targets like the goals of the Paris Agreement, we need to both reduce emissions and remove the carbon we’ve already released.

Carbon capture technology offers:

  • Permanent CO2 removal. Many companies sell offsets from projects like preserving forests or capturing methane from landfills, but those offsets may be temporary. Forests can burn down or get cut by loggers. In contrast, carbon capture offers permanent CO2 removal. Because carbon stays in the atmosphere, the technology can even remove carbon emissions from decades ago.
  • Measurable CO2 removal. Offsets from projects like preserving forests can be hard to quantify. Some have been dubious, like offsets sold to save trees that weren’t going to be cut down. Measurability is not the problem with carbon capture, though.
  • Efficient land use. Other ways of removing carbon, like planting trees, require a lot of land, much more than a carbon capture facility. Captured CO2 can be stored underground as rocks.

Climeworks is not the only startup working on direct air capture. Carbon Engineering is its main competitor, though it doesn’t offer any products to individuals.

How does Climeworks technology work?

Climeworks builds direct air capture facilities that look like giant fans. To be climate-neutral, the facilities get electricity from renewables or waste. The fans draw air into collectors, which capture CO2 using filter material. Once collectors are full of carbon, they are closed. Collection units then heat up to around 100 degrees Celsius. CO2 is released, mixed with water and stored underground, where it turns into stone.

There are other carbon storage options. Climeworks has even sold CO2 to a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Switzerland. But with Orca, Climeworks stores carbon underground as rocks.

Here is what a direct air capture facility looks like:

Credit: Climeworks

Orca can remove up to 4,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually. It is not a lot, but it’s a start. For comparison, according to Cool Effect, an average American emits 16.6 tons of CO2 each year, so one Orca can only “offset” 240 Americans. And worldwide annual carbon emissions are roughly 50 billion tons.

As more facilities are built, more emissions can be captured. According to Climeworks, building a direct air capture plant takes 1-2 years, and the plant can operate for ten years. Speed is essential: an alternative way of capturing carbon – planting a new forest – can take twenty years.

How much does Climeworks cost?

Climeworks offers three subscription plans that you can cancel any month.

  • Explorer ($8 / month + tax). The Explorer plan funds the permanent removal of 85 kg (187 pounds) of CO2 from the air annually.
  • Discoverer ($24 / month + tax). The Discoverer plan funds the removal of 255 kg (562 pounds) of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
  • Special expedition ($55 / month + tax). This plan funds the removal of 600 kg (1,322 pounds) of CO2 from the air each year.

Source: Climeworks

Climeworks also lets you buy a subscription as a gift.

If you subscribe, you will get an annual confirmation of how much carbon you’ve removed from the air.

Unfortunately, Climeworks is extremely expensive compared to other carbon offset projects, which generate offsets by planting or protecting trees or capturing methane from landfills. 

Depending on the subscription you get, you will be paying $1,100-$1,129 per metric ton before tax. If your emissions are average for an American, say 16.6 tons per year, offsetting your emissions will cost over $18,000.

SubscriptionMonthly Fee ($)Annual Fee ($)CO2 removed (kg)CO2 removed (tons)Offset Price per Ton ($)
Explorer
896850.0851,129
Discoverer

242882550.2551,129
Special Expedition

556606000.61,100

Note: prices are before tax. Purchases are not tax-deductible.

In comparison, conventional offset providers like Cool Effect and Terrapass charge as little as $9.9 per ton or $164 a year to offset your emissions.

🔔 Looking to compare offset prices? See how the top ten carbon offset providers compare.

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What are the problems with direct air capture?

Direct air capture is very expensive

As described above, Climeworks charges at least $1,100 per ton of carbon removal (if you get the Special Expedition subscription). So offsetting the cost of a flight from New York to Los Angeles, which can release 0.6 tons of carbon, will cost you $650 with Climeworks, possibly more than the cost of the entire flight.

Conventional offset providers like Cool Effect and Terrapass charge only $9.9 – $11 per ton, so offsetting the same flight would amount to under $6. Offsets from avoiding deforestation may be less certain, but they are certainly more affordable.

Apparently, Bill Gates gets a special discount for volume purchases and pays Climeworks only $600 per ton. But that is still way higher than the corporate market rate for carbon offsets, where prices are as low as $4-5 per ton.

Climeworks wants to get the cost down to $200-300 per ton by 2030, but that is a long way away and still expensive.

Direct air capture capacity is very limited

The technology is in its early stages and has not yet been deployed on a wide scale, partially due to how expensive it is. Orca is the largest direct-air capture facility in the world, yet it can only capture 4,000 tons of CO2, a drop in the ocean of 50 billion tons of annual carbon emissions.

Of course, wind and solar energy were once very expensive, but their cost came down steadily over the years. Today, wind and solar are the cheapest sources of energy in some locations. Perhaps direct air capture will follow that trajectory.

Energy-hungry direct air capture facilities need access to renewable energy

Direct air capture requires a lot of energy, but using fossil fuels to power direct air capture would defeat its purpose. Places like Iceland offer easy access to geothermal power, but that’s not the case everywhere.

Where is Climeworks located?

Climeworks is a Swiss company based in Zurich, but its largest carbon capture facility, called Orca, is in Iceland. (Orca means “energy” in Icelandic.) The facility is powered by a geothermal plant, and captured carbon is stored in rock formations nearby.

Who founded Climeworks?

Climeworks was founded by Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. Both are mechanical engineers with PhDs from ETH Zürich, the Swiss university where they first met.

Is Climeworks publicly traded? Can you invest in Climeworks?

No. Climeworks is a privately owned company, and you can’t invest in it unless you are a venture capital firm.

🔔 But you may be interested in investing in carbon credits through carbon credit funds.

Who owns Climeworks?

According to Crunchbase, Climeworks raised over $138 million from investors like the Swiss Entrepreneurs Foundation and Zürcher Kantonal Bank.


All-in, Climeworks is an option to consider if you want to reduce your carbon footprint. However, it is much more expensive than the alternatives, so it’s probably best used combined with traditional offsets.

🔔 Looking to compare offset prices? See how the top ten carbon offset providers compare.