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Coca-Cola bottler experiments with turning emissions into effervescence

Pilot project in Switzerland aims to establish a viable market for captured carbon.

In the coming months, Coca-Cola HBC Switzerland (CCHBC) subsidiary Valser is set to release what it calls the world’s first water bottled with carbon dioxide (CO2) pulled directly from the air.

The project in Hinwil, Switzerland — dubbed CAPDrinks by the joint partners behind it, Climeworks and Pentair Union Engineering — is drawing attention from both the government and private sector because of how it leverages direct air capture (DAC) technology to capture and develop food-grade CO2.

The installation received $1.32 million in funding (PDF) from Eurostars, a joint EUREKA and European Commission program. Its first customer, Valser, is early proof of its potential in the private sector.

Carbonated beverages have long used the CO2 byproduct from power plants. What’s unique about what Climeworks and Pentair Union Engineering are developing is the focus on rethinking the source of that CO2. The hope is that the technology can offer a compelling emissions drawdown story for the companies that use it, and the project partners also have taken pains to create a process that isn’t reliant on fossil fuels — the system uses byproduct thermal energy and it is also capable of running on renewable energy. 

But the current application is limited in scope. Martin Kathriner, public affairs and communication manager at CCHBC, was direct about the fact that the CO2 captured at Hinwil is "currently a nominal 600 tons of CO2 per year." Still, over time, CCHBC aims for "approximately 25 percent" of future CO2 used in its carbonation to be sourced from Climeworks, the provider of the DAC technology, Kathriner said.

The spark behind clean CO2 sparkling water

The CAPDrinks project bubbled up in 2013, when two climate change-concerned presenters at a green fuel workshop met and popped the cork on an idea for modular, containerized CO2 plants that could support industrial applications.

Pentair Union Engineering "saw the same future as Climeworks," said Jan Poulsen, the company’s head of research and development. "It was natural for us to cooperate in bringing our technologies together, as we believe in and want to be at the forefront of CO2 technology and sustainable solutions."

While the new systems did not require any changes to Climeworks' core technology, what is new is ensuring that the air-captured CO2 can be used for food-grade purposes.
The partnership between Climeworks and Pentair Union Engineering solidified in 2016, with the initial CAPDrinks project’s objective of designing a CO2 purification and liquefaction solution capable of generating food-grade quality CO2, Poulsen said. The system fits into a 40-foot shipping container, which makes it relatively compact as well as simple to install or move.

Pentair Union Engineering and Climeworks are tapping the existing market for carbon dioxide to test the system’s viability and gather long-term operational experience that will be used to further refine potential industrial applications.

Switzerland-based Climeworks is one of several companies specializing in direct air capture of atmospheric carbon dioxide. While the new systems did not require any changes to the company’s core DAC technology, what is new is ensuring that the air-captured CO2 can be used for food-grade purposes.

Louise Charles, a spokeswoman for Climeworks, said one of Pentair Union Engineering's contributions to the partnership was driving toward "the high purity standards required for using CO2 in beverages."

Another challenge encountered by the venture was squeezing the technology into a shipping container, in part because of the "balancing act of height-specific vessels with filter beds and process columns, flow velocities (and corresponding diameters) and reaction times," Poulsen said.

The team forged ahead with "a higher-than-normal design pressure and the use of new and more compact components."

The downside? Poulsen said that the operating expenses associated with running purification and liquefaction at such a small scale are higher than at "plants with high CO2 concentration feed gases and room to install lots of heat exchangers for energy recovery." Poulsen did not provide specific details about that price delta. 

Valser, the first company to find a beverage-related application for the CO2 captured by the Climeworks-Pentair Union Engineering partnership, was an early believer in the project. According to Kathriner, the company’s interest is primarily in supporting "a promising technology for stopping climate change and demonstrating its use in industrial production."

Valser already has received its first delivery of CO2 from Climeworks, Kathriner said. "In the coming weeks, we’ll increase the supply from Climeworks continuously," he said.

Ready to scale

The process established at the CAPDrinks pilot plant proved not only the concept behind the design but also that it "can be scaled up as desired," Poulsen said.

Climeworks is actively searching for potential partners, Charles said. The company’s 14 active DAC plants deployed across Europe currently serve the agricultural and energy sectors.

In the agricultural industry, for example, greenhouses rely on CO2 to boost crop yield. Often supplied in the form of liquefied flue gas, this CO2 usually needs to be transported to the site. With a modular, containerized solution from Climeworks, however, the gas could be available onsite.

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