One of my goals for 2017 was to create a Project Drawdown-like educational resource with $0 production budget. The idea was to bootstrap an asset that could help amplify attention and funding for climate change solutions in the broadest and least biased way possible (while sharpening my chops as an analyst and making friends along the way). I knew that it would be rough around the edges, and lack an academic rigor one might expect from several years of study and extensive data sets, but that wasn’t the point of the effort. I would produce the content that was home made, accurate, and could articlate a clear value proposition about the range of technologies and solutions that have something to do with slowing, stopping, and reversing climate change. This is began as an experiment to grow and differentiate Carbon A List newsletter, where I would list new companies and projects every month explaining what they did and why I picked them. Though I went deep specifically in technologies that could capture CO2 from the atmosphere and do something with it, the Carbon A List spans solutions that can reduce, reuse, replace, recycle and remove carbon dioxide. Instead of talking about solutions from a meta perspective, I would find the projects and companies that are part of deploying the solution. Thus began “The Carbon A List.” I would select companies based upon the following criteria:
- Unique value proposition – is it better than what is currently on the market/solve a real pain/customer need?
- Life Cycle – does it have a better carbon balance than a current process which is adding CO2 to the atmosphere?
- Scalability – how easily, quickly and much can it scale?
- Sexiness – is it novel, does it do more good than harm, and does it create an additional value beyond the climate impact?
- Wonder/X-factor – did I just learn out about it, recently meet a CEO/Founder/Board Member, did the project have a recent announcement, or does it have a ‘je ne sais quoi’?
After traveling to Switzerland to attend the world’s first direct air capture commercial plant opening, and producing a video about it in May, I decided to step it up a notch and start the Climate Change Solutions Challenge where I would produce videos (a total of 43 over a period of 50 days from June to August) from my iPhone answering “what is the solution, how does it manage carbon, what additional benefits does it provide, and what does success look like.” Those companies or processes which became videos that highlighted a company, but were not listed in my newsletter appear at the end. In total, there are 54 different companies or projects that have been highlighted, each with a unique process. I make no claims that these are the best 54 approaches for a dollar for dollar method addresses climate change. (Actually the best way to stop climate change is through not making refrigerators that contain harmful greenhouse gases/properly disposing of those that do. Unfortunately, while I chatted on the phone with someone from a refrigeration company, I was not able to include them in the climate change solutions video challenge.) While I give these solutions my endorsement, and think that they are all good ideas, the listing of these companies is by no means a recommendation to invest or fund any of them on the basis of their listing here alone. They are merely illustrative to put in simple terms how they work and how they fit in the context of reducing, reusing, recycling, replacing and removing carbon. The order of these listings are chronological from when they were listed in my 2017 monthly newsletters. In parentheses is the type of process followed by the way it manages carbon. Starred companies have a corresponding video. You can click on the name below to navigate to that spot on the webpage.
2017 Carbon A List
- Biolite Energy (Cookstoves; reduce, replace)
- Climeworks* (Direct air capture; recycle, remove)
- Pioneer Energy (Carbon utilization; reduce, reuse)
- GreenSand (Enhanced Weathering; remove)
- Covestro (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Carbon Clean Solutions (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Axiom Exergy (Energy efficiency; reduce)
- CleanO2* (Energy efficiency, carbon capture; reduce, reuse)
- Envairo* (Energy efficiency; reuse)
- Bloc Power (Energy efficiency, renewables; reduce, replace)
- Carbicrete* (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Groncol (Buildings; remove)
- Apeks Supercritical (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- TerraCOH (Carbon utilization, reuse, remove)
- Net Power (Carbon capture; reduce, reuse)
- Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) program (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Green Minerals* (Carbon utilization, reuse)
- New York Hemp Industries Association* (Biological carbon capture; recycle, remove)
- Friends of Bellport Bay* (Blue carbon; remove)
- 10X Beta* (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Shockwave CO2* (Carbon capture; reduce, reuse)
- Idle Air* (Transportation efficiency; reduce, replace)
- Interface* (Biological carbon capture; reduce, remove)
- All Power Labs* (Biochar; replace, remove)
- BioCarbon Engineering (Biological carbon capture; remove)
- BioRecro* (Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage; remove)
- Ecovative* (Biological carbon capture; recycle, remove)
- Catalytic Innovations* (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- Mango Materials (Carbon utilization; reuse)
- CarbFix2 (Mineral sequestration with direct air capture; remove)
- Marin Carbon Project (Biological carbon capture with compost; remove)
- Global Thermostat (Direct air capture; recycle; remove)
- Simris (Carbon utilization with algae; reuse)
- Derbigum (Enhanced weathering; remove)
Honorable Mention: Video Only
- UGE International (Commercial solar; replace)
- Peacefood Café (Veganism; reduce)
- Rock and Wrap it Up (Food recycling; reduce)
- Dagmy Motors (Electric Vehicles; replace)
- GMAX Tidal Power (Tidal power; replace)
- Linde (Carbon utilization/water mineralization; reuse)
- 475 (Passive houses; reduce)
- Blue Planet Consulting (Urban agriculture; reduce)
- Tri Global Energy (Wind power; replace)
- Here Comes Solar (Community solar; replace)
- CO2 Solutions (Carbon capture; reduce, reuse)
- Plug Power (Hydrogen; replace)
- Solar 1 (Batteries; replace)
- Electric Vehicle Charging (replace)
- Carbon Negative Hydrogen (replace, remove)
- Climate Foundation (Blue carbon; recycle, remove)
- Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (replace)
- Nuclear Energy (replace)
- Propagate Ventures (Agroforestry: recycle, remove)
- Soil Carbon Removal (Soil carbon removal: remove)
What they do: BioLite designs off-grid personal scale energy products for cooking, charging, and lighting.
Why I picked them: It’s well known that traditional cookstoves cause a problem for health, pollution, and excess carbon waste in the developing world. BioLite wants to change that with a product that uses a readily available renewable resource – biomass – and can improve the micro-technology needed to produce energy for heating and electrical charging. They have successfully positioned themselves on a path of parallel innovation; building a luxury product for outdoor enthusiasts who need to cook and charge their gadgets, while simultaneously supporting a product that allows energy to be accessible everywhere.
What they do: Climeworks manufactures devices that extract CO2 from the atmosphere
Why I picked them: They cut the ribbon in May at their new plant and are taking the lead as the first company to remove almost 3 tons of CO2 a day from air and feed it to an industrial greenhouse. This is an important milestone for the direct air capture (DAC) community, as it represents the first DAC unit to demonstrate an integrated market solution to use CO2 from the atmosphere for a remote demand that pays between $200-300/ton for it. For more context on why I think this is a big deal, read “A Secret Master Plan for Direct Air Capture.”
What they do: Pioneer Energy is a market leader in modular technologies that can capture and convert flares and vapors at well-heads of gas extraction into a resource.
Why I picked them: While capturing fugitive gases and making them economical is an important innovation in its own right, I chose them for the beer, modularity, and the automation. Using NASA technology, they are spinning out the CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System which grabs CO2 from fermentation processes and uses it for beer carbonation. It generates enough CO2 to carbonate around 60,000 barrels of beer per year which can save a typical brewery around $15,000 per year. Since it is not economical for a human to run the system, they built it completely automated. While the system generates less than 0.2 tons of CO2 per day, their modular technologies must liquefy and compress CO2 – an important technological piece to improve in the carbon utilization supply chain.
What they do: GreenSand prepares Olivine for an array of products in the agriculture, infrastructure, and landscaping sectors.
Why I picked them: GreenSand is a start-up at the epicenter of enhanced weathering with Olivine (the Netherlands) and they beginning to demonstrate real scale to show a product pathway to a slow-acting permanent carbon sink. In simple terms, the mineral is crushed and ground to different sizes and then passively removes CO2 from ambient air as it dissolves magnesium. This month, the academic journal Biology Letters, published by The Royal Society released a mini-series that covers finer points on the topic around scale, additional benefits, applications, and modeling. GreenSand can substitute lime as an agricultural product (to optimize pH levels and also provide a plant nutrient – magnesium), pebbles for a rail-bed, or hardening for a garden path.
What they do: Covestro is one of the world’s largest suppliers of high tech polymers.
Why I picked them: For one, based upon CEO Patrick Thomas’ view of innovation and science. He recently said “if you have a breakthrough, you can’t keep it to yourself.” (read: if you are an innovator in the Carbon conversion space, look to Covestro for a strategic partnership). And second, they are proving that carbon dioxide is a viable raw material to replace the traditional crude oil feedstock to make plastics while saving on costs. While their first of a kind system which cut the ribbon in Germany last summer is only using around 1000 metric tons of CO2 annually to make foams for their Cardyon® brand, it’s still a great case study of a major industrial player with huge market distribution taking a lead in turning a waste to an asset. Soon you will be able to sleep on a mattress pad with captured carbon. TBD on whether that signals greater momentum in the paradigm shift for carbon based products or is just a greenwash.
What they do: Carbon Clean Solutions is a start-up company developing a portfolio of technologies that can capture and convert CO2 from biogas, iron, steel, cement, gas and coal plants.
Why I picked them: It is good that their process is less corrosive and less energy intensive than conventional carbon capture systems in a traditionally highly capital intensive and dirty industry. It is better that they use smaller equipment as this will permit a faster learning curve and cost reductions due to a lower capital cost. And it is great that they are diversified to be able to capture carbon from multiple sources as aligning your process on the belief that coal will always be extracted until the end of time – despite what the current white house administration might like to see – is ill-founded. Yet even if no new coal fired power plants are built, efficient technology to manage emissions from centralized sources is critical for cost effective decarbonization. But I mostly picked them because their technology is also behind the Tuticorin plant in India to use carbon as a feedstock and make around 60,000 tons of baking soda this year and requires no subsidies to make the economics work.
What they do: They convert refrigeration systems for supermarkets into “cooling batteries,” which freeze tanks of salt water and then supply cooling services on demand.
Why I picked them: Energy price fluctuations from increased renewable sources of energy onto the grid are particularly rough on supermarkets who cooling expenses tend to be when electricity prices are highest. This company has found a novel way to shift the load around with a more efficient way to use a resource, creating dramatic energy savings.
What they do: The opposite of Axiom, with a twist. They recover waste heat from commercial and residential boilers for water heating while converting the carbon dioxide from the heater’s emissions into soda ash.
Why I picked them: They are designing a modular system that can not only provide payback in savings from more efficiently managing but creates a valuable product that creates a new revenue stream for home and building owners. Soda ash is a raw material for glass, pharmaceuticals, detergents, and other uses.
What they do: They have a software solution which uses existing appliances in a building to determine occupancy data (+/-3 people) to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Why I picked them: This is an enabling technology, opening another door to the internet of things to dramatically reduce HVAC operating costs for buildings without the need for any new hardware. Lower HVAC costs, lower carbon footprint. Greater occupancy – more need to manage CO2 (cue the innovations sucking CO2 out from buildings). If you keep your building CO2 balance in check and you have healthier, happier and more productive people.
What they do: They use machine learning algorithms to conduct energy audits in small and medium enterprise buildings, aggregate investments into energy savings where the ‘bloc’ can repay the loan, and implement retrofits.
Why I picked them: Their methodical approach to convert inefficient buildings in low income communities into an investment opportunity to put people to work, solve health problems, improve energy usage, and generate a financial return is a replicable and no-brainer solution to make buildings more efficient. Their platform is a key enabling technology to connect impact investors/philanthropists to shovel ready projects.
What they do: They mix carbon dioxide with steel slag to make concrete.
Why I picked them: Unlike other low carbon cement approaches which use CO2 to make an appreciable climate impact, but still use Portland cement, this company is demonstrating that they don’t need to use cement in order to make their material. Instead they can take a material that is headed for the landfill – steel slag – and carbon dioxide to create a more durable and less expensive building block.
What they do: They are a green architecture company who built the World’s largest vertical garden in Bogota.
Why I picked them: These 85,000 plants filter 1708 pounds of heavy metals and 881 pounds of dust each year. And look at this building. Don’t you want one in your city?
What they do: Apeks builds modular processing equipment that uses sub or supercritical CO2 for extraction of essential oils, decaffination, and waxes.
Why I picked them: The amount of carbon dioxide used here is negligible from the climate impact (uses up to100 lbs/day), but it is illustrative of how CO2 can be used for more efficient processes, is less toxic and corrosive than other materials, and can support high value applications. Some of the compression and recycling technologies may also be useful for carbon management related applications.
What they do: TerraCOH uses CO2 as a supercritical fluid to inject underground and use it to react with the earth’s heat and generate an earth battery.
Why I picked them: This is serious out of the box thinking that takes a CO2 waste to activate a stable energy source.
What they do: NetPower produces electricity from Natural Gas with a process that can strip all CO2 before burning it and use the CO2 to run a turbine. The result is a lower cost way to produce electricity and zero carbon emissions.
Why I picked them: NetPower’s solution is a game changer because instead of steam it uses CO2 as a working fluid which allows for significant efficiency gains in terms of footprint, water usage, and cost. Pay attention to the results of their demonstration plant in La Porte, Texas. Should this prove successful, this could soon become a new way that large scale plants are designed.
What they do: STEP is a collaboration between GE Global Research and other partners at the Southwest Research Institute and is demonstrating how a CO2 cycle can be a replacement for a steam cycle by building a 10 MW test facility.
Why I picked them: Similar to NetPower, this is a game-changer for the way CO2 can replace the steam cycle by being more compact, more efficient, and requiring no water. The amount of CO2 used here is small ~100 kg/second, and is entirely closed loop (meaning, this is not much use for things that can capture CO2 from air or powerplants), but it is a supporting technology to make use of heat from Concentrated Solar Power or Nuclear and turn it into electricity using CO2.
What they do: Green Minerals reacts olivine with carbon dioxide to make materials that can become precusors to make paper, and fillers for 3d printing and making concrete.
Why I picked them: As small scale demonstrations prove successful, this chemical reaction could enable a completely new that can convert CO2 waste or directly from the atmosphere into these assets.
What they do: NYHIA spreads information about and advocates for hemp cultivation in New York State.
Why I picked them: For political reasons – mostly strong cotton industry lobbyists – growing hemp is still illegal in the United States. This is silly legislation because hemp is actually a more sustainable crop, more resilient, and able to made into all kinds of products ranging from oils to clothing to building materials. And it sequesters carbon.
What they do: They are a volunteer organization that help build oyster gardens in Bellport, Long Island.
Why I picked them: They are seeding a movement of microenvirontalism that inspires homeowners to take responsibility of the land around them and find ways to improve surroundings. Not only do oysters filter carbon and nitrogen from the water, but the improve the resilience of a bay and seed a vibrant aquatic ecosystem. Carbon is stored both in the oyster shell as well as through photosynthetic activities that the oysters enable.
What they do: 10X Beta is a prototyping company and designed the world’s first shoe made out of carbon dioxide.
Why I picked them: They proved that it is possible to take a polyurethane mix that uses captured carbon dioxide to make things. This is an exciting new part of the circular economy and a new way to replace oil to make materials with a CO2 feedstock.
Marcel Botha of 10X Beta holding the world’s first CO2 Shoe
What they do: Shockwave CO2 uses a proprietary “shockwave” technology to separate CO2 from emission sources.
Why I picked them: Shockwave CO2 pursues a modular, low-cost and customer oriented approach to deliver compressed CO2 for dry ice, greenhouses, fuels and chemicals, and more.
What they do: Idle Air provides in cab services of heating, ventilation and AC along with electricity and internet to truckers at truck stops.
Why I picked them: This is a cost effective way to reduce emissions from trucks idling while at truck stops as well as providing cleaner air and a significantly better night’s sleep for truckers.
What they do: Interface is the world’s largest carpet manufacturer for residential and commercial uses.
Why I picked them: They are leading a “Climate Take Back” initiative to make carpets that have a net-negative carbon footprint using photosynthetic processes.
What they do: All Power Labs makes biomass gasifers to produce on demand energy and carbon negative biochar.
Why I picked them: Their solution is able to produce reliable power from using biomass waste while also producing a resource that enables negative emissions.
What they do: They plant trees in a novel way. They use drones to measure an ecosystem, drop seed pods, and leverage artificial intelligence to optimize growth.
Why I picked them: Because BioCarbon Engineering is able to automate their technology it can scale rapidly and adapt more responsively to changing terrains. Their monitoring systems also leverage data in a far more efficient way than humans will be able to, allowing for greater accounting of biological carbon sinks.
What they do: Biorecro converts biomass into energy and captures carbon dioxide emissions which are then stored underground.
Why I picked them: It is critical to determine the extent to which this technology can scale (on the order of how many billions of tons per year), and Biorecro is one of the leading companies pursuing the development of this option.
Overview of Ecovative’s process to store carbon in materials
What they do: Ecovative is a leading biomaterials company that converts mycelium into products.
Why I picked them: Their solution scalable, less expensive, replaces Styrofoam, and their products range from packaging to furniture to drywall.
What they do: Catalytic Innovations has a proprietary way to zap water and carbon dioxide with electricity to make carbon based liquids.
Why I picked them: They started with making moonshine to prove that it is possible to make alcohol. From there they are building larger reactors that can convert CO2 into whatever desired product.
What they do: They convert methane from a wastewater treatment plant into polyhydroxobutae (PHB) polymers using a microbial process. This process beats the cost of making PHB polymers with petroleum based oils. These polymers are biodegradable and can be spun into clothing and other materials.
Why I picked them: It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a pitiful supply chain. This application flips that concern on its head by producing a close carbon loop product that also dramatically reduces pollution. Also, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas, and there is a lot of low hanging fruit (pun intended) to reuse carbon from these sources which would otherwise reach the atmosphere.
What they do: CarbFix is a collaboration between Reykjavik Energy, Climeworks and a number of universities at the Hellishedi Geothermal Plant. It is a demonstration project that has successfully mineralized 95% of carbon dioxide injected into a basalt in 2 years.
Why I picked them: CarbFix unleashed CarbFix 2 which is the first integration for direct air capture, demonstrating a first of a kind pathway to develop negative carbon emissions and the most permanent way to store excess atmospheric carbon.
What they do: The Marin Carbon Project seeks to enhance carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural, and forest soils through applied research, demonstration and implementation in Marin County, California.
Why I picked them: This group is innovating scalable ways to develop carbon farming plans, and are a living testbed to develop unique carbon sinks.
What they do: Global Thermostat is a direct air capture company that uses a heat pressure swing to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Why I picked them: They recently announced their third plant opening in Huntsville, Alabama. This time they will be making carbonated beverages for a brand you have most certainly heard of. As the most bullish of the direct air capture companies who claims that $50 or less per ton after the millionth ton would be easily achievable it is critical that they have more demonstrations and operating time to prove these claims to be true.
What they do: Simris produces and delivers natural food products from farmed algae.
Why I picked them: Simris shows a scalable and profitable solution to produce value from algae and carbon dioxide. Too bad for the fossil fuel emitters they don’t get their source of carbon from burning fuels, but from producing vodka.
What they do: Derbigum is leading manufacturer of sustainable roofing systems.
Why I picked them: They recently released a new product line that directly removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While the total amount of CO2 removed is small – the average-sized roof over the lifetime would only remove 1/4 ton of CO2, it presents an interesting market ready project enhanced weathering project that provides additional benefits beyond just the carbon removed.
These are companies and projects which did not make my newsletter, but I still produced a video about them as an educational resource.