As more companies set aggressive decarbonization and net-zero goals, the role of technologies and processes that draw down excess levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and help sequester those emissions by using it as a feedstock for another product is in the spotlight.
The growing realization: While many carbon capture and storage approaches such as those being pioneered by the likes of Carbon Engineering and Climeworks are still relatively untested and prohibitively expensive, there are ways to generate value and revenue from captured CO2 by turning it into a feedstock for some other thing — such as fuel or construction materials or even protein, for a start.
Earth already provides a natural carbon sequestration process through trees and agriculture, of course, but a new frontier of companies, backed by growing interest in the broader carbontech movement, are looking to sequester carbon into goods for everyday usage.
Together, natural and engineered approaches to carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide, could assist in removing the 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere needed to avoid irreversible damage, according to an analysis by the Circular Carbon Network.
Slowly but surely, organizations focused on processes that turn carbon into value are graduating from the laboratory and putting their ideas into practice, often by using CO2 captured through industrial processes.
Here are five companies worth watching in 2021. This list certainly isn’t all-inclusive, but it provides a glimpse of what might be possible in months to come.
Blue Planet’s technology captures carbon dioxide and uses it as a raw material itself, rather than using it to treat other materials. Its method involves turning CO2 into carbonate rocks, which can be used as a substitute for limestone rock, a primary component of concrete.
The Los Gatos, California-based company, which raised $10 million in September, plans to convert emissions captured at power plants, steel mills, cement plants and refineries and then distribute the rocks to concrete plants, where the CO2 can be stored permanently.
The material already has been used at the San Francisco International Airport, and Blue Planet recently signed a deal with building material company, Knife River Construction. A number of other startups are focused on using CO2 for concrete, including CarbonCure, Carbicrete and Carbon Upcycling (the latter of which is discussed later on this list).
Based out of the United Kingdom, CCm Technologies has focused its carbon sequestration efforts on both fertilizer and plastics.
The company said it is able to reduce 90 percent of the carbon footprint associated with the traditional fertilizer manufacturing process by using captured carbon dioxide as part of the process. For the plastics industry, CCm Technologies has developed a fiber, capable of absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide, which can be incorporated into plastics such as polypropylene.
PepsiCo and CCm Technologies in December signed a partnership to install the technology at its Walker Crisps plant in Leicester, England, where it will be used to manufacture fertilizer from waste potato peels. The company also closed its Series A funding round last month, although the amount was not disclosed.
Carbon Upcycling Technologies
Over the last five years, Calgary, Alberta-based Carbon Upcycling Technologies — one of the NRG Cosia Carbon XPrize competitors — has developed advanced reactors, pressurized with carbon dioxide captured from identified point sources, that are capable of producing almost 20,000 pounds of material every day.
This material is treated through the reactor and results in enhanced nanoparticles, which can then be used in creating concrete and plastic. Consumer-side products that are using CO2 captured with the Carbon Upcycling process, available for pre-order for 2021, include yoga mats, crayons and concrete pens. The Canadian company also has signed a partnership with Mexican building products company Cemex that is focused on scaling production of low-CO2 concrete.
The textile industry contributes to 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, inching closer to the level of emissions from the automotive industry. DyeCoo, based out of the Netherlands, has developed a water-free and chemical-free textile process over the past decade. Instead, the company uses its patented technology to use reclaimed CO2 to dye textiles.
The technology works by pressurizing CO2 until it reaches a state with high solvency. This substance is used with raw dye to transport into the textile fibers.
Kiverdi’s NASA-inspired technologies capture CO2 and transform it into a form that can be used in creating nutrients and bio-based products, including aquafeed.
A large percentage of the wild fish caught each year — up to 90 percent — is used to create fishmeal, which is made through harvesting forage or low trophic fish. High levels of fishmeal production threaten the ocean ecosystem and food chain, which can amplify adverse climate effects. What’s more, creating new sources of fishmeal would make more of the wild catch available for potential human consumption.
Kiverdi, based in Pleasanton, California, creates feed using captured CO2 and adding it alongside other elements in the company’s proprietary bioreactors. These reactors, powered by renewable energy, are able to convert these elements into nutrients. The company said the resulting complete protein has the same nutritional value as traditional fishmeal, offering a competitive, more sustainable substitute.
Looking to the future
What’s ahead? NovoNutrients, based in Silicon Valley and backed by the likes of Chevron, is beginning to develop products to decrease reliance on the conventional meat and fish industry through using carbon dioxide waste. The company’s main product is protein flours, which contain necessary proteins and amino acids found in meat but are a more sustainable option.
Another organization, Aether Diamonds, is developing carbon-negative diamonds, using direct carbon capture technology. After purifying the carbon, Aether uses a reactor to transform the carbon into a real diamond over a few weeks, with a two-carat Aether diamond offsetting 2.5 years of an individual American’s carbon emissions.
What other carton-to-value startups should we be watching? Email suggestions to [email protected].