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Bill Gates invests in carbon capture startup

An American startup has attracted $80 million of investment to develop its promising new electrochemical carbon capture technology.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), led by Bill Gates, are among the early investors in Verdox’s emissions drawdown technology which, for now, remains operable only in the lab. The company says that will now soon change, as the $80 million will allow for an acceleration of its plans to ‘develop and deploy’ the technology.

Verdox’s technology has the potential to capture carbon from any industrial source or the air – and at up to 70% relative energy savings.

Dr. Brian Baynes, Founder and CEO of Verdox

The company’s core technology was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by Professor T. Alan Hatton and Dr Sahag Voskian. The pair pioneered a carbon removal technique that uses electrical energy to capture and release the carbon dioxide, saving the need for the amounts of heat and water typically used for its removal.

“The high energy efficiency and scalability of Verdox’s technology could enable the company to play a major role in addressing the carbon removal challenge,” says Carmichael Roberts from BEV. “This innovation has provided a paradigm change for both industrial and air capture – and the Verdox team has made great strides to reduce the concept to economical commercial practice.”

CO₂ removal industry

Last year the world’s largest carbon capture and CO₂ storage facility was switched on in Iceland. The new Orca plant, launched by Climeworks and Carbfix, was a historic moment for the technology. The stackable container-size collection units it uses are powered by geothermal energy in a system that injects CO₂ deep underground into rocks, in a process that turns it to stone. At the switch-on, Jan Wurzbacher, co-CEO and co-founder of Climeworks, hailed Orca as a “milestone in the direct air capture industry”.

With the increasing development and deployment of these technologies has come increasing calls for CO₂ removal quotas. In 2020 researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Girona, ETH Zürich and the University of Cambridge, said a system must be put in place for such quotas.

“Carbon dioxide removal is necessary to meet climate targets, since we have so far not done enough to mitigate our emissions. Both will be necessary going forward, but the longer we wait to start removing CO₂ on a large scale, the more we will have to do,” said Dr Niall Mac Dowell,” from the Centre for Environmental Policy and the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial. “It is imperative that nations have these conversations now, to determine how quotas could be allocated fairly and how countries could meet those quotas via cross-border cooperation. It will work best if we all work together.”

The team involved in the study modelled different ways of assigning quotas across Europe. Issues of cost and culpability mean it will be a challenging task to get countries to agree on the best way forward. One suggestion made by the researchers involves a trading scenario, whereby somewhere like the UK, with an abundance of space for CCS, could sell capacity to other countries.

“By 2050, the world needs to be carbon neutral – taking out of the atmosphere as much CO2 as it puts in. To this end, a CO2 removal industry needs to be rapidly scaled up, and that begins now, with countries looking at their responsibilities and their capacity to meet any quotas,” added the report’s co-lead author Dr Carlos Pozo, from the University of Girona. “There are technological solutions ready to be deployed. Now it is time for international agreements to get the ball rolling so we can start making serious progress towards our climate goals.”

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Written By

Susan is the co-founder of Innovators Magazine and a consultant for OnePoint5 Media. Susan is also a member of the UNFCCC-led Resilience Frontiers Nexus group and co-chair of the APOPO Foundation UK board.

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