Creating an inspiring design for Climeworks

Climeworks Front Perspective

Creating an inspiring design for Climeworks

  • Alexandre Avranches
    Alexandre Avranches Industrial Designer, designaffairs
  • Anna Lena Romeis
    Anna Lena Romeis Industrial Designer, designaffairs
  • Stéphane Piqué
    Stéphane Piqué Industry X Lead Switzerland, Accenture

Climeworks’ new carbon dioxide removal plant bridges the gap between nature and technology.

The challenge. Climeworks has big ambitions: they want to inspire 1 billion people to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climeworks’ direct air capture technology captures carbon dioxide directly from the air. The air-captured carbon dioxide can either be recycled and used as a raw material in a circular economy, or completely be removed from the air by safely storing it. Therefore, Climeworks captures CO2 from the air and Climeworks’ partner, the Icelandic company Carbfix, mixes it with water and pumps it underground where it mineralizes through natural reactions. The CO2 is then permanently removed from the air.

Now, Climeworks is scaling up its carbon dioxide removal technology in Iceland. The new plant will be able to remove 4000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. However, a scale up like this goes hand in hand with sophisticated design tasks.

This is Orca: Climeworks' new large-scale carbon dioxide removal plant.
This is Orca: Climeworks' new large-scale carbon dioxide removal plant.

Climeworks’ technology can help save the world. A unique visual identity can help it articulate its vision, driving awareness and take-up.

Climeworks’ strategic goal is to take its technology global, so making the technology blend with the Icelandic landscape was, for the design team, part of a larger challenge.

These plants must be aesthetically pleasing, they must ‘fit’ the environment. However, to capture the imagination of the world and to inspire people to become climate positive, the CO2 extraction plants need to send a strong message—they need to reflect what Climeworks stands for, driving awareness and inspiring action.

The mission. The mission for designaffairs was therefore to create a design process that would assist Climeworks to create a distinctive solution that would fit into any location, with variables such as materials and structural considerations catering to differences in environment and application. At the same time, our structure must visually reflect its action: it inhales a CO2 charged air and exhales a carbon free one.

Our vision is to inspire one billion people to remove carbon dioxide from the air. That is why we required an inspiring design. And we got it. The design presented by designaffairs bridges the gap between nature and technology, showing that direct air capture complements natural solutions in the fight against climate change.

The process. The first part of the task was to render what the plant would look like from various aspects. To ensure designaffairs met the government of Iceland’s stringent requirements, we sent a team to Iceland to experience and study its unique landscape and architecture. Onsite, our team used drones and photogrammetry software to create a virtual 3D map of the landscape.

In 2019 designaffairs sent a team to Iceland to experience and study its unique landscape and architecture.

There were some key considerations:

  • Usability and function– aligning design elements to functional structures. We were inspired by architectural icons such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
  • Environmental demands and regulation– meeting the need for a robust solution that can withstand a rugged climate, as well as complying with governmental regulation in terms of materials and aesthetics.
  • Sustainability– using materials that have a low eco footprint, are locally and sustainably sourced, and are durable.

We created a mood board detailing its considerations and presented Climeworks with three design options. The aerial photography allowed us to create a 3D landscape into which we could insert a 3D model of the redesigned plant. We used this to present the design for approval to Climeworks and the Icelandic government.

Our 3D model of Orca. The redesigned plant will be able to permanently remove 4000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year.

The outcome. With our understanding of the power of design—how to marry form and function but also how to create a unique visual identity for a brand to articulate its vision and purpose—we knew we could make a difference in driving awareness and take-up.

The design of Climeworks’ CO2 removal plant in Iceland has now shifted from industrial to ‘minimalist eco’. It is functional, eco-friendly, blends into landscape, and is modern. But most importantly, the new design is inspiring—it makes visible the invisible problem of global warming, driving awareness of this technology and stimulating demand. Additionally, an exciting future application for Climeworks will be to use this 3-dimensional scene, or material captured at a potential client site, together with a VR headset to present Climeworks’ technology to clients.

This creative journey and design process template will help Climeworks define its presence and drive sales, which equates to action on climate change. Everyone wins, but especially the planet.

Climeworks chose Accenture as its innovation partner to accelerate the business. Being a part of Accenture Industry X, innovation consultancy designaffairs was chosen to assist with the redesign of the plant.

We are very proud of our collaboration with Climeworks and want to make Climeworks more competitive and successful in their mission to clean the air.

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