We analyzed the carbon capture market and selected the four best carbon capture startups. Read further to discover who is leading carbon capture.
What is carbon capture?
The carbon capture landscape encompasses a suite of innovative technologies designed to capture and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from diverse sources. This field has witnessed a remarkable surge in investment, reaching an unprecedented milestone of $6.4 billion in 2022. Behind this exponential growth lies the pivotal role that carbon capture technologies can play in achieving global energy and climate goals. Most net zero scenarios presented by the world’s leading organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), depend critically on carbon capture expanding to 6-8 Gt of CO₂/year to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
What are the disadvantages of carbon capture?
Until recently, carbon capture technologies have been considered too costly to be commercially viable. Concerns about their long-term sustainability and their feasibility have led to widespread scepticism among public and private parties, halting technological development. While some reservations are still valid today, the implementation of favorable policies and incentives, particularly in North America and Europe, have played a crucial role in fostering new technological developments. According to the IPCC, carbon removal is essential to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C and experts agree that carbon capture is especially vital for hard-to-abate industries where no other viable solutions currently exist.
How promising is carbon capture?
In recent years, the carbon capture sector has witnessed a remarkable surge in the establishment of startups. While players prioritize different points of capture, the common thread among carbon capture startups is their shared commitment to enhancing energy efficiency and achieving market viability.
Specifically, post combustion and direct air capture (DAC) technologies are growing in popularity, while also marine-based removal shows a recent upward trend. The adoption of post combustion technologies can be attributed to recent tax incentives and policy initiatives aimed at encouraging investments in industries with relatively low costs of carbon capture. This technology finds greater suitability in industries characterized by concentrated CO2 emissions, such as natural gas processing, ammonia production, ethanol production, and other petrochemical applications. Direct air capture and marine-based removal are both nascent technologies that pull carbon dioxide directly from the air, ocean and other natural waters.
In tandem with the rise of startups, investment in carbon capture and storage has surged, reaching an all-time high of $6.4 billion in 2022. This figure includes corporate research and development (R&D) funds for first phases of specific CCS projects, government R&D, and venture capital funding for direct-air-capture plants and point source technologies). Notably, we found that carbon capture companies have collectively secured $3.5 billion in funding.
Who are the leading carbon capture startups to watch?
We have selected 4 exciting early stage investment opportunities that are driving innovation in carbon capture. The common thread among all four selected early-stage startups is their shared commitment to enhancing energy efficiency. Whether it's Mission Zero Technologies utilizing heat-free DAC technology with 3-4 times lower energy consumption, Nuada's carbon capture solution employing pressure instead of heat for CO2 separation, the Carbolysis process by Carbo Culture that generates heat instead of consuming it, or Captura's direct ocean capture solution harnessing off-peak renewable electricity, the primary objective remains consistent: reducing energy consumption.
Mission Zero: Low-energy, heat-free technology for Direct Air Capture of CO2
Mission Zero Technologies was founded in 2020 as a spin-out from Deep Science Ventures. The founders hold post graduate degrees in Materials Science and Chemistry from UCL and Imperial College London as well as extensive experience with developing and scaling material technologies in renewable energy, semiconductor and carbon capture sector.
Mission Zero’s DAC system captures CO2 from gas streams and scrubs CO2 from their air-contacting step and concentrates it as a pure gas during the electrochemical separation. The process consumes 3-4x less energy than existing thermal regeneration approaches, and the solution leverages existing and mature technologies such as cooling towers and electrochemical water purification.
One of Mission Zero Technologies’ major advantages is that, unlike in conventional sorbent-based DAC processes, there is no need to apply high energy to separate CO2 from the sorbent. While leading solutions still require high temperatures for the release, Mission Zero’s solution utilizes a weak binding process that is also energy efficient, with release happening at room temperature. Their core process units are off-the-shelf components, already produced in large volumes today, and consume only < 800 kWh/tCO2.
Nuada: Efficient separation of CO2 from process emissions via a “heatless” and solvent-free system
Nuada builds energy-efficient filtration machines that capture CO2 from industrial off-gases, empowering emitters in hard-to-abate sectors to reduce their carbon footprint. The company combines advanced solid sorbents with mature vacuum swing technology to enable the efficient separation of CO2 from process emissions via a heatless and solvent-free system. It has recently been awarded a £666,525 grant from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero CCUS Innovation 2.0 programme to advance carbon capture in the Waste-to-Energy (WtE) industry.
CO2-rich flue gas is routed to the carbon capture unit, where CO2 is captured by the Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOF) filters. Once the MOF filters are saturated, they are regenerated and release the CO2 into a high-purity stream using vacuum rather than heat. During this regeneration, the CO2-rich feed gas is diverted to another parallel column, providing continuous removal.
Compared to conventional amine solutions, Nuada uses pressure instead of heat to separate CO2 and therefore promises up to 80% in energy savings. Moreover, unlike most carbon capture technologies, Nuada’s solution does not use toxic solvents that can evaporate through time and release hazardous emissions. Filtration machines utilize MOF solid solvent materials that operate via vacuum swing adsorption (VPSA) which is an already mature gas separation technology.
Carbo Culture: Patented, energy-positive biochar carbon removal solution
Carbo Culture’s founders joined forces in 2013 at Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Centre and begun developing a novel carbon removal solution. The company officially started in 2018 after receiving initial funding and R1 reactor prototype assembly.
Carbo Culture developed a patented carbon removal process called Carbolysis™ which uses a pyrolysis method to convert waste biomass into biochar through high temperature and pressures. The product of the Carbolysis process is a highly stable biochar with stronger carbon atom bonds than in the original biomass. In March 2023, Carbo Culture initiated the construction of their full-scale prototype, R3, at their new site in Finland. The company plans to begin work on their flagship commercial facility C1 next year, which will offer full-scale industrial capacity, reaching 20k tons of annual removal in 2025.
Carbo Culture uses a pyrolysis process to convert carbon into a stable, inert form for permanent storage. What sets Carbo Culture apart from other pyrolysis processes is that its patented solution also turns all additional oils and tars into syngas without producing any tar liquid end products. This reduces the danger of negative environmental outcomes that tars can produce if not properly disposed of.
Captura: Innovative Direct Ocean Capture technology that only requires seawater and renewable energy as inputs
Captura is utilizing a technology developed in Caltech’s laboratories that only uses renewable electricity and ocean water as an input to indirectly remove atmospheric CO2. The 1st pilot system has been launched off the coast of Newport Beach in California in 2022. Captura has also completed a successful live demo of their 2nd pilot on a 100-ton system.
Captura uses electrochemistry to generate an acid and base from ocean water and renewable energy to evolve (bubble out) CO2 gas. Inside a closed system, the acid is added to ocean water to trigger a chemical reaction for CO2 extraction, after which the base is introduced to neutralize the acid. The CO2-depleted ocean water is returned to the ocean with a slightly lower acidity, which can counteract local ocean acidification. Over time, the ocean and atmosphere re-equilibrate the balance of CO2, causing a drawdown of the same amount of atmospheric CO2 into the ocean that was originally removed by Captura’s system. The result is a concentrated stream of CO2 ready for subsequent sequestration or utilization, as with Direct Air Capture.
Captura is developing a revolutionary solution with low capital costs (no purpose-built air contractors), low operating costs (no absorbents, no by-products) that is scalable (no rare-earth elements and deployable globally) and produces a verifiable stream of CO2 for carbon credits or to make low-carbon products.
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