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Accenture backs Climeworks on CO2 removal tech

The consulting firm offers software, market advice and visual design services to the carbon removal venture, which recently opened a plant in Iceland.

A newly launched facility that removes carbon dioxide from the air and stores it underground uses a cloud-based digital plant offering from Accenture to manage its operations.

On Sept. 9, Climeworks, a Swiss company focused on CO2 removal technology, opened a direct air capture plant 20 miles southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland. The plant, dubbed Orca, uses stacks of "collectors" to draw in air and filter out CO2. Once a collector's filter is full of CO2, the device closes and heats the contents. This step creates high-concentration CO2, which Carbfix, an Icelandic company and Climeworks partner, mixes with water and pumps underground. The CO2 reacts with basalt rock and turns into calcium carbonate, a mineralization process that takes less than two years, according to Climeworks.

Iceland, with more than 100 volcanoes, is considered ideal for the CO2 capture-and-storage operation because the country has an abundance of volcanic rock such as basalt and geothermal energy. A nearby geothermal plant provides the Climeworks facilities' power.

Climeworks' Iceland location "is a very special place where you have geothermal heating, which provides cheap energy, green energy, [and] basaltic formations below the ground where carbon dioxide can be stored for many millennia," said Thomas Stocker, a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern.

"These ... geological conditions are not present everywhere [in the world]," he said at a press briefing for the launch of Climeworks' Orca plant.

Stéphane Piqué, Accenture's Industry X lead in SwitzerlandStéphane Piqué

Against this backdrop, Accenture's digital plant technology "enables Climeworks to have a better understanding of how the plant is operating," said Stéphane Piqué, Accenture's Industry X lead in Switzerland. The system lets Climeworks monitor the CO2 removal process, keeping tabs on operational parameters such as valve positions, pressure variations, CO2 flow rates and temperature levels.

For example, Accenture developed algorithms for the digital plant offering for identifying correlations between environmental conditions and CO2 output. By getting a handle on the relationships between CO2 output and factors such as ambient temperature and wind speed, plant managers can optimize the direct air capture process to minimize energy use, according to Piqué.

An evolving relationship

Accenture first encountered Climeworks in 2018 during at World Economic Forum panel discussion. There was interest within Accenture to support Climeworks' technology, but the startup didn't fit cleanly into Accenture's client portfolio. The professional services company, however, began an informal relationship. More than 60 Accenture personnel offered to consult with Climeworks in their free time, Piqué said.

In early 2020, Accenture began working with Climeworks in its Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP) practice, through which it typically works with non-governmental organizations. "ADP is a really good way for us to put skin in the game," Piqué said. Piqué suggested Accenture may add other sustainability startups to the practice.

[Accenture Development Partnerships practice] is a really good way for us to put skin in the game.
Stéphane PiquéIndustry X lead, Switzerland, Accenture

Accenture's collaboration with Climeworks has fostered a number of initiatives. Accenture advises the company on use cases and potential markets for captured CO2, which companies can convert into products as diverse as carbonated beverages and jet fuel. Accenture also connects its clients with Climeworks -- Microsoft and Shopify being two examples.

In other ventures, Accenture's Designaffairs company offered its services for the visual design of the Orca plant. Meanwhile, Avanade, an Accenture-Microsoft joint venture company, will work with Climeworks to determine how the company might migrate its IT systems to the cloud.

Scaling up

Climeworks continues to engineer and optimize its direct air capture technology to boost the collection of high-concentration CO2for storage. Climeworks' Orca plant will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 annually, according to the company. The company aims to achieve megaton capacity in the second half of this decade and gigaton capacity by 2050, said Christoph Gebald, co-founder and director at Climeworks, during the media briefing for the Orca launch.

While Climeworks looks to scale, it isn't alone in developing direct air capture technology. Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company, operates a proof-of-concept CO2 removal plant in B.C. and earlier this year began the design phase of a plant in Scotland. The latter will remove between 500,000 and 1 million tons of CO2 annually, according to the company.

Carbon Engineering partnered with Storegga, a carbon reduction firm in the United Kingdom, to build the facility. The companies plan to have the plant operational by 2026.

In addition, United Kingdom-based Tech Nation this month selected Carbon Infinity, a company developing direct air capture technology, as one of 32 startups participating in the latest stage of its Net Zero accelerator program. Tech Nation is an entrepreneur network.

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