“It’s Really Exciting To See The Passion Factor As This Industry Needs To Grow Exponentially” – Hussein Dhanani, Head of Sales and Strategic Partnerships Climeworks

"It's Really Exciting To See The Passion Factor As This Industry Needs To Grow Exponentially. Passion Moves Mountains," Hussein Dhanani, Climeworks - Carbon Herald
Hussein Dhanani, Head of Sales and Strategic Partnerships at Climeworks. Credit: Climeworks

Last year, COP28 was a relative success for climate change mitigation efforts as it produced the first COP text to mention that we need to “transition away from fossil fuels”. There were also many developments that supported the nascent carbon removal sector with efforts to unify the voluntary and compliance carbon markets as an example.

At COP28 we met with Hussein Dhanani, Head of Sales and Strategic Partnerships at Climeworks who shared interesting insights about what drives the direct air capture industry and how Climeworks is scaling fast to meet the exponentially growing demand for high-quality carbon removals.

Hi Mr. Dhanani, could you please tell us more about yourself?

I’m a mechanical engineer from the Swiss Institute of Technology. I worked for around 15 years for the consumer goods company Procter and Gamble in marketing and sustainability. Now I’m on the other side, the supplier side, which is very very exciting.

At Climeworks, we are growing quickly and hiring people with great talent. It’s really exciting to see the passion factor because we are at the moment when this industry needs to grow exponentially and passion moves mountains.

What are your main takeaways from COP28?

One of the things I noticed is the efforts that we need to make in education. The first priority for companies is to focus on reduction. Following the 90/10 rule as proposed by the SBTi, we need to build the removals capacity to eliminate the 10% unavoidable emissions, and legacy emissions later on.

The first big topics to communicate to everybody is that this needs to happen. The orders of magnitude are also important to explain – from the 40 billion tons of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere every year, only the “last mile” of those can and will have to be removed to get us to net zero and beyond. The communication on the basics is important, because people will really understand where we are coming from and what removals are going to be used for.

Relevant: What Happened At The Climeworks Direct Air Capture Summit 2023?

Then, we need to explain there is not one solution that will solve everything and there will always have to be a portfolio of solutions. My first impression from the different roundtables and panels at COP28 is that we need to explain more and at the same time share the urgency of our work.

As demand is growing exponentially, how is the removals industry coping to meet it?

The demand is growing. The number of SBTi commitments is growing faster every week and gives us an indication of the removals needed. We are looking at a demand/supply gap of almost a billion tons of CO2 by 2030. We are looking at a curve of demand that is growing exponentially and a curve of supply that is more linear.

Credit: Monthira | Shutterstock

In a few years, we will realize that this is a problem. We know the technology solutions we need to scale. Companies need to think about securing the supply early enough. The good news is today’s supply can be secured for the long term. People are starting to realize that more and more. The amount of industries that are expressing interest in a carbon removal portfolio is increasing.

Have you already secured demand for your future DAC plants in your pipeline?

We have a lot of demand secured. For example, for Mammoth, which is coming online soon in Iceland, most of the capacity is sold out. This is important, as secured demand allows us to scale our plants. And while demand is there, the off-take must still be accelerated if we want to reach a gigaton of installed capacity by 2050, our company goal.

I have seen major corporations getting into the market and buying carbon removals from the conversations at COP28. We also had lots of interesting conversations on the need for portfolios, the benefits of having portfolios versus investing only in one solution. For example, following the Oxford Offsetting Principles on how to build a portfolio in line with scientific recommendations is supporting solutions from nature-based to engineered ones and then progressively increasing the share of engineered solutions.

How is the construction of the Mammoth plant progressing?

Mammoth is Climeworks’ latest larger DAC+S plant in Iceland. We will announce switching it on very soon. On our website we’ve tracked progress with Mammoth and learnings of field-operating a commercial DAC+S plant. Field operation is crucial when bringing new projects to life.

Credit: VectorMine | Shutterstock

We are learning how to do things on a larger scale, but also across different meteorological conditions which allows us to make Mammoth even more efficient. Over 120.000 hours of operating Orca and previous plants give us an important headstart in developing direct air capture and constantly improving it with real-world operational data and learnings.

For example, the first year of operation of Orca provided for a steep learning curve as we had one of the worst winters, holding a few surprises for us. The snow was coming horizontally to the fans which was something you cannot simulate in the lab. But this experience helps us in planning our expansion and informing further development.

What is Climeworks’ project pipeline?

Our scale-up roadmap is ambitious but achievable – removing a billion ton of CO2 by 2050. To get to this, between now and 2030, we want to grow the capacity to a million tons. Recently, we announced projects in the U.S., Kenya and Canada. The U.S. is the most advanced one in this pipeline, thanks to the unprecedented support the U.S. government is giving to the development of Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs.

Relevant: Climeworks Announces Expansion Plans In The US, Boosted By Federal Climate Policies

Climeworks has applied to be part of three of such projects and has been successful. But a gigaton by 2050 really means a global roll-out of direct air capture and this is what we are currently working on and determined to lead.

It seems daunting, but if you compare it to similar growth curves, like that of the solar industry for example, we know that it can be done. We can learn from that and re-apply some of the takeaways for our industry’s journey.

How does Climeworks’ DAC technology compare to competitive approaches in terms of filter materials and overall efficiency of the system?

We are the only DAC developer globally that runs a multi-ton scale commercial DAC+S plant 24/7. The learning and the experience that we generate from that and feedback to our development team are invaluable and have been instrumental in developing our tech further. While many other technologies are in lab or prototype phases, we’ve been real-world operational since 2017.

Mammoth site with completed process hall cladding1. Source: Climeworks

Over this period, we have consistently enhanced the efficiency of our systems and identified areas for potential future improvements. Our deployment led innovation approach, enables us to progressively introduce technological breakthroughs while deploying increasingly larger plants. We believe that mastering and excelling in DAC is only possible through its practical operation.

Do you hope to see more inclusion of DAC in policies?

For this industry to scale, we need a systemic push. First, there is the private sector. It plays a big part to make early-stage and long-term commitments, signaling demand and helping us scale. At the same time, policymakers need to create the right framework to drive trust and encourage more investment.

Then investors that need to enable pre-financing of the plants. And lastly, but importantly, you need the suppliers – we need to create a structured supply chain at scale. The whole ecosystem needs to grow at the same time and policy is a big part of that, as it gives the overall direction.

We are really happy with the support from the U.S. government under the IRA, as the funding allows us to build more plants to reach the necessary scale. Policy was also a big part of the renewables growth, so we need all of the help we can get.

What are the main issues DAC needs to overcome to reach gigaton scale?

Rather than talking about the barriers, let’s talk about how to grow the technology. Two things will help and already have helped in the past: building real-life DAC+S plants that show it can be done and then showing them to buyers, investors and policymakers to convince them of their feasibility. They need to see it with their own eyes.

Source: Climeworks

The other is verification and building trust. We delivered the first verified removal services with DNV earlier this year which created an extra trust environment to enable more people to join and we also announced the certification with Puro, which is coming soon. This is particularly important these days.

How do you think the technology will scale in the near and long-term?

When we talk about what needs to happen to scale the technology, we have to mention that the scale is based on data and science, not wishful thinking. The deployment-led innovation approach that we follow here at Climeworks, means that we are learning our way up, step by step. We don’t run before we walk. But as we know we’ll need to run. We want to train as much as possible to be able to finish the race.

Companies are also well-advised to start planning their carbon removal portfolio. They shouldn’t wait for the storm to hit but plan for it in advance. That doesn’t mean they will get everything done today but they will start somewhere.

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