Coca-Cola Is Going to Use Captured CO2 to Carbonate Its Drinks

credit: Coca Cola bottling plant Columbus, Ohio

This won't solve the climate crisis, but it could help direct air capture of CO2 to scale up.

I recently wrote about the idea that negative emissions technologies like direct air capture of CO2—once thought largely speculative and way too expensive—may actually be on the verge of commercial viability. True, there are many obstacles still to overcome, but companies like Climeworks are already successfully capturing emissions; they just need to bring the cost down far enough that they can start to put a dent in atmospheric carbon. (Climeworks alone has an insanely lofty goal of capturing the equivalent of 1% of global emissions by 2025.)

One way they may be able to finance that is by first partnering with soft drinks companies to carbonate their beverages with CO2 that's been sucked directly out of the sky. And, as Fast Company reports, Climeworks has just announced a partnership with Coca-Cola to do just that—installing a direct air capture array at a bottling plant for Coca-Cola-owned Valser water.

As Fast Company rightly points out, and as anyone who has left a bottle of sparking water open too long knows, CO2 pumped into drinks doesn't stay there forever—and is a relatively small source of CO2 overall—so this announcement is not exactly a game changer for the environment by itself. But the beverage industry is one of the few places where there is a mass market for (and occasional shortage of) CO2 right now, so it offers an opportunity to bring in revenue and scale operations until markets in reuse and/or sequestration of carbon emissions mature.

Here's how Christoph Gebald, cofounder and director of Climeworks, described the significance:

“The beverage industry is really the bridge from today–no existing market–to enabling us to further work down our cost curve and industrialize the technology. It’s really the missing bridge between startups and, one day, climate-relevant scale to remove carbon from the air.”

As I mentioned in the previous piece on negative emissions technologies, there are many other things deserving of our resources. From planting mangroves to soil conservation to—I don't know—maybe not polluting in the first place, a concerted push on these cheaper, more developed strategies and technologies could limit the amount of negative emissions tech we need in the future.

And yet, I can't help but feel that the situation is now becoming so urgent that we should also be moving full tilt ahead with supporting technologies which we may one day rely on to buy us time as we mop up the mess that we've knowingly created.

So while I still think bottled water is kind of dumb, I have to say that I, for one, support this move and hope it leads to bigger and more scalable efforts to come.