A startup that uses minerals to pull carbon dioxide has won financing – its first buyer

A new startup depends on minerals to pull carbon dioxide from the air one of the first Commercial efforts to spread what are known as improved weather conditions to slow climate change.

Heirloom Carbon Technologies says it can remove CO2 for $ 50 per ton once it reaches the commercial range, which will be much less. Estimates For other industrial approaches. Its goal is to remove 1 billion tons of the major greenhouse gases that fuel climate change by 2035.

The San Francisco-based company will announce on May 26 that it has raised an undisclosed amount of initial financing from major investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Lore Carbon Capital and Prelude Ventures. (Industry sources say it is in the millions.)

Additionally, payment processing company Stripe, which funds technology pilot projects, will announce that it plans to purchase approximately 250 tons of decarbonization from the company at $ 2,054 a tonne.

Noah Desh, president of carbon180, a research advocating for carbon removal and reuse, says the company can help address the primary challenge of decarbonizing: technical approaches such as those offered by direct air absorption companies like Climeworks and Carbon promise engineering with lasting results but cost a lot. , While natural solutions such as soil and forest compensation are cheap but often It raises anxiety About how reliable and durable carbon removal is. If Heirloom meets its cost targets, Deich says, he may offer permanent removal at relatively affordable rates. (Heirloom CEO Shashank Samala participated in the Carbon180 Entrepreneur Resident Fellowship Program.)

But the technology is at an early stage and the company will face many technical and market challenges along the way, including finding more buyers – like Stripe – willing to pay high decarbonizing prices for years to come.

A new approach to decarbonization

The project is receiving attention in part because of the process described in a research paper published in Nature Communications Last year, it was developed by prominent researchers exploring the use of minerals to capture and store carbon. They include Greg Dibble of the University of British Columbia and Jennifer Wilcox, who is now the first deputy assistant fossil energy secretary in the Biden administration. The lead author of the paper was Noah McQueen, a graduate student at Wilcox who is now head of research at Heirloom.

Preventing a 2 ° C global warming may require withdrawing 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year by 2050 and 20 billion annually by 2100, according to The 2018 study. But only a handful of mostly startups are actively working on this today, exploring a variety of mediums such as Making machines Which directly extracts carbon dioxide particles from the air, Converting vital waste into oil They are injected underground, or systems are developed to stimulate or validate natural methods such as reforestation or agricultural practices that may absorb more carbon into the soil.

A number of scientists and non-profit organizations have also investigated the possibility of accelerating the processes by which various minerals – especially those rich in silicates, calcium and magnesium – pull carbon dioxide from the air or rainwater. Some mill and spread the material Like olivine, While others are already using crushed by-products for mining operations, Even including asbestos.

However, legacy takes a completely different path.

How it works

The company will cook materials like crushed limestone, which is mostly made of calcium bound to carbon dioxide, at temperatures ranging from 400 to 900 degrees Celsius – high enough to break down and release greenhouse gases. This is similar to the first step in cement production. (Other feedstocks could be used as well, such as magnesite, which has been the focus of Nature Communications.)

The legacy ultimately intends to rely on electric ovens. This means that the process can run on clean renewable energy sources and produce a stream of carbon dioxide that is free of fossil fuel impurities. The carbon dioxide can then be relatively easily captured, compressed, injected underground, and stored away mainly forever.

The remaining oxide minerals, which would be calcium oxide if you started the process with limestone, can be dispersed in thin layers across sheets, stacked vertically, and exposed to the open air. Think lunch trays on cafeteria shelves.

Metals are highly reactive, eager to bind to carbon dioxide in the air. The company’s researchers believe, with some additional improvements, that most of the materials will be bound to greenhouse gases within two weeks. It usually takes about a year.

The startup will not discuss improvements, but it may include automated ways to mix materials to constantly expose them to the open air.

This process will convert calcium oxide back into calcium carbonate, the main component of limestone, at which point the process can simply begin again. The company thinks it can reuse the materials at least 10 times, maybe dozens, before they decompose too much to capture enough carbon dioxide.

Scaled removal of carbon

All of this is very expensive today, as is also reflected in the price that Stripe pays. The payments company will announce on Wednesday that it will spend roughly $ 2.8 million buying decarbonisation credits from six projects, plus another $ 5.25 million when (or if) these efforts complete certain milestones. Other recipients include Carbon BeltAnd the Tide runningSeachange, Mission Zero, and Future Forest Company, which are planning a field trial of mineral weathering that includes spreading basalt rocks along the forest floor.

Heirloom’s Samala says these early, high-price purchases are essential to help emerging decarbonisers expand and cut costs.

“Spread is what makes this cheaper, unlocks new markets, and lowers costs even more,” he says.

But finding more buyers willing to bear these costs will be a serious challenge for all decarbonising companies – particularly given the availability of cheap forests and Soil compensation That allows buyers to claim that they are balancing their emissions, whether these programs are or not trusted.

Meanwhile, the world needs to support many research groups and startups in decarbonization, says Nan Ransuhoff, head of climate division at Stripe.

Ransuhoff says we have to “drastically increase the number of projects” if we want to have “any shot” to hit the 2050 decarbonization target. “Ten gigatons is a lot – it’s just a lot, and even in the best case scenario, all of the companies we have today wouldn’t get us there.”

Cut costs

Heirloom is confident in its ability to cut costs significantly because it avoids expensive absorbents and energy-intensive fans that blow air through the system in other ways to direct air capture. Additionally, it intends to rely heavily on robotics, software, and other automation to speed up and reduce the costs of the process, building on Samala’s past experience as a co-founder of Automation time.

The legacy will benefit from several other developments underway as well, including improvements in electrically driven heat technology, lower costs of renewable energy, and increasingly decarbonized grids around the world, says Clea Kolster, director of science at Lowercarbon Capital.

But their ultimate costs and ability to expand rapidly will depend a lot on how and how quickly these things continue to improve.

As it stands, generating the necessary temperatures from electricity using today’s technologies can be 5 to 10 times the cost of burning coal or natural gas directly, says Addison Stark, director of the Energy and Environment Program at the consulting firm Clark Street Associates, who was involved in Authored. A recent research paper in Joules On the topic. Additionally, if the source of electricity itself is not carbon-free, it undermines any decarbonizing benefits.

Another question is to what extent and how the legacy will be able to reduce the time it takes for the oxides to bind to carbon dioxide, which will greatly affect the economy, says Jeremy Freeman, CEO at CarbonPlan, who analyzes the scientific integrity of decarbonization efforts and helped assess Projects that have applied for the Stripe program.

The legacy will also have to collect a much larger financing round to eventually build a pilot plant.

The company’s main business model is to sell carbon removal credits to companies or individuals, either through voluntary compensation schemes or government carbon programs. Heirloom relies on its offerings that are more attractive than ever with lower costs and public policies provide the carrots or sticks that make them more attractive – or more necessary – to companies or governments to pay for decarbonizing over time.

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