Cutting-edge Carbon Capture and Removal Companies & Technology

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Meet the Expert: Matthew Eisaman, PhD

Matthew Eisaman

Dr. Matthew Eisaman is a tenured associate professor at Yale University in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences and the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture. His expertise extends beyond academia to the entrepreneurial world, where he co-founded Ebb Carbon—a pioneering startup in San Carlos, California—dedicated to revolutionizing ocean-based carbon dioxide removal and combating ocean acidification through electrochemical ocean alkalinity enhancement.

He holds a PhD in physics from Harvard University and a bachelor of arts in physics from Princeton University. His research interest lies in utilizing Earth’s natural processes to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. Current projects include innovative approaches to ocean carbon dioxide removal; studying ramifications on marine life; enhancing Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) methods; and exploring integrative solutions such as the amalgamation of oceanic and geochemical carbon dioxide removal strategies.

Carbon Capture and Removal Strategies

Carbon capture and removal technologies are rapidly advancing, with various companies exploring different methods to achieve the same goal of reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Carbon capture is relatively straightforward. Carbon dioxide is captured at the source, such as a large factory, industrial facility, or power plant burning fossil fuels. In many cases, emissions can be reduced by up to 90 percent.

However, as Dr. Eisaman points out, reducing emissions is not enough anymore. It is necessary to remove CO2 from the environment as well. “Within carbon dioxide removal, there are a lot of different approaches. Each of them tries to mimic some aspect of the Earth's system,” he explains. “The most promising approaches are trying to accelerate existing processes the Earth has for regulating carbon dioxide, and all of them are quite interdisciplinary. I focus on ocean carbon dioxide removal, and we use electrochemistry as the core part of that process. So earth and planetary science, oceanography, and marine sciences are involved, but there's also material science on the technology side.”

Here are a few types of carbon removal technologies:

  • Direct Air Capture (DAC): This technology involves capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air using specialized filters or solvents. The captured carbon dioxide is then compressed and stored underground, used for enhanced oil recovery, or utilized in other industrial processes. Companies like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks are leading the way in this field.
  • Ocean-Based Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): This strategy uses natural ocean processes to capture and store carbon emissions. For example, Ebb Carbon's electrochemical process increases the alkalinity of seawater, causing it to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The added carbon is then stored in the deep ocean, away from the atmosphere. Other companies like Global Thermostat are exploring similar ocean-based methods.
  • Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): This approach involves growing crops or algae that absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and then using the biomass as an energy source. The carbon dioxide emitted in the process is captured and stored underground. Companies like Drax and Carbon Clean Solutions are utilizing this technology.
  • Enhance Rock Weathering: This method involves accelerating the natural process of rock weathering, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Companies like Silicate are pioneering this approach.

Benefits of Carbon Removal

Ultimately, the goal of CO2 removal is to slow global warming, but in many cases, the technologies developed to do so also have added benefits. Companies pioneering rock weathering are one example: “They spread minerals and rocks for the CO2 removal. However, those minerals have a lot of other nutrients that get released as well. A big area of study for that field is to understand how much that increases crop yield because farmers are already spreading agricultural lime on their fields, and the mechanism for spreading materials like that is already part of many of their farming practices,” notes Dr. Eisaman.

Similarly, Dr. Eisaman's work benefits sea life and removes carbon from the environment. “The specific approach we're pursuing should be beneficial locally for shellfish and shell-forming organisms. We're interested in working with aquaculture partners in the Pacific Northwest because they are suffering from ocean acidification. We are hoping to help reverse that,” he says.

But regardless of the secondary effects, carbon removal is necessary: “Whatever the benefits and risks are, we have to weigh that against doing nothing, which will cause ocean acidification, higher temperatures, and sea levels to increase,” Dr. Eisaman warns. “This technology should be beneficial no matter what. Nevertheless, we're testing it to make sure we know what the bounds of safe operation are.”

How Net Zero Commitments Drive Carbon Removal Technology

In recent years, many corporations and countries have committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This commitment includes reducing their own carbon emissions and removing any remaining emissions from the atmosphere, leading to a growing demand for carbon removal technologies and increasing research and development in this field.

“The voluntary carbon market has been established. Many companies such as Microsoft, Stripe, Shopify, and others have net zero commitments. They are trying to stimulate the supply of carbon removal through this advanced market commitment. They pledge a set dollar amount to purchase a set amount of carbon removal to stimulate people to develop the supply of carbon removal that they need because they essentially have net zero commitments,” explains Dr. Eisaman. “Currently, they need to purchase carbon removal to satisfy their goals, but there is no supply.”

This established demand is helping companies with promising technologies get the funding they need. “This advanced market commitment to purchase carbon removal has stimulated the market, encouraging people to create new startup companies to remove carbon. Venture capital firms are funding these different approaches since they're trying to make money. It's a little unique in that way.”

Also, unlike other markets, there is very little competition: “The challenges we are trying to solve are simply enormous. While many of these companies are technically competitors because there are so many tons of CO2 to be removed at this point, it's a very collaborative environment,” he says.

Future Outlook

Other than developing the technology itself, the biggest hurdle to removing carbon is building it. “We need to ramp up the effort to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air by mid-century and something like five to ten billion tons per year by the end of the century. That's significant, and scaling up quickly is critical,” says Dr. Eisaman.

“We're at the stage where many different solutions are popping up, and we need to evaluate which of these work the best, are the cheapest, and are the safest, and then scale those up quickly. We have to balance that sense of urgency and need to scale up with being mindful and careful that we assess the safety.”

He continues, “The approaches that are trying to accelerate existing natural processes have the potential to be the lowest cost and most scalable. If your solution requires you to build lots of equipment and has a very technological approach, that's expensive and probably doesn't scale as quickly. But if what you're trying to do is just kind of accelerate something that is already happening in the Earth system, such as enhanced rock weathering, those have the most promise.”

He acknowledges that making this happen will be a huge undertaking: “Humans have solved very difficult challenges in the past. Look at World War II and how many airplanes we made in the late 30s versus the 40s. That kind of collective effort is what will be needed,” says Dr. Eisaman.

“One of the challenging things about climate change is that, unlike World War II, it's not an acute threat. It's a chronic problem like a frog boiling in hot water, and we humans aren't wired to react in the same way. I think we're certainly capable of doing it, though. Every tenth-of-a-degree increase we can avoid matters. We just need to get moving.”

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