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The startup helping P&G, Mercedes-Benz replace petrochemicals

Twelve Loop process
Twelve

One of the most closely watched startups focused on creating materials and other products out of captured carbon dioxide has raised a sizable $57 million Series A round of funding led by two VCs focused squarely on those value propositions, Capricorn Technology Impact Fund and Carbon Direct Capital Management.  

Twelve, formerly known as Opus 12, self-categorizes as a "carbon transformation" company. Its electrolysis technology, already used by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Procter & Gamble and NASA, transforms the CO2 emissions related to industrial processes into an ingredient for solid and liquid products — ranging from the foam in sneakers to polymers in an automobile dashboard to a feedstock for decarbonizing laundry detergent to transportation fuels, and so on.

Aside from the two lead investors, one of Twelve’s seed backers, DCVC, is kicking in more money along with Munich Re Ventures, the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, Breakout Ventures and Evok Innovations. The company does not disclose its total backing, according to one of its co-founders, but it also has received funding through the Echoing Green fellowship, the Roddenberry Prize, the Keeling Curve Prize, and from oil companies including Shell.

Twelve’s vision is to directly replace the petrochemicals in the many products for which they are used, said Etosha Cave, chief science officer for Twelve. Cave co-founded the Berkeley, California, company along with Nicholas Flanders, CEO, and Kendra Kuhl, chief science officer.

Businesses can use CO2Made materials to deliver the same performance, safety and efficacy standards that traditional materials offer, while achieving their climate goals.

"Carbon Direct’s mission is to accelerate the carbon management ecosystem by providing both scientific advisory and financial capital," said the firm’s CEO, Jonathan Goldberg, in the press release about the funding. "Twelve’s pioneering electrolysis technology has the potential to reshape the procurement of specialty chemicals and fuels."

The company says that replacing "fossil feedstocks" with Twelve’s materials for products such as those mentioned above could address up to 10 percent of global CO2 emissions. Its modular systems convert CO2 at the source of production into the replacement ingredients — essentially plugging into customer’s existing manufacturing processes.

P&G’s Tide unit, for example, is seeking to replace certain ingredients in its detergents. Mercedes-Benz is using Twelve’s material in C pillars (the fancy name for the structure and moldings behind the rear windows in a sedan).

"This new funding is taking Twelve to a critical inflection point where we can scale our technology to any capacity or customer application, and to suit any product demand," said Cave in a statement. "Businesses can use CO2Made materials to deliver the same performance, safety and efficacy standards that traditional materials offer, while achieving their climate goals." CO2Made is the brand name that Twelve is using for its products. 

When I spoke with Cave, she said the new backing will be used to scale up the size of its systems — currently about the size of a washing machine in its working pilots — to an industrial version that is more the size of a shipping container. Twelve is taking preorders for the technology, but she declined to specify a potential launch date. 

Twelve is testing a variety of pricing models to get its systems out into industrial supply chains: Some manufacturers, for example, might consider buying them outright to serve the needs of their own manufacturing facilities. Other companies, such as those turning CO2 into materials or fuels, might opt for a scenario in which they pay for "the molecules" generated by Twelve systems sited either at their own plants or elsewhere. "We are testing which models make sense," Cave said.

When I asked her which industries the company is targeting first, Cave declined to be specific, saying that Twelve will "go with the path of least resistance; the companies most eager to work with us."

The two lead backers of this funding round certainly bring the right sorts of connections. The Technology Impact Fund, run by Capricorn Investment Group, is also a backer of Redwood Materials, the closely watched circular battery startup founded by former Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel. Carbon Direct is more selective, but it is allied with two other hot carbontech companies: concrete startup CarbonCure and point-source capture technology player Svante

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