A low-cost approach to direct air capture via mineralization
All across the world, from the azure pools of Turkey and Oman to the travertine terraces of Yellowstone, our planet quietly pulls carbon dioxide from the air and turns it to stone. For eons, Earth has relied on this process to balance its carbon cycle. What if it could be harnessed? What if we could do it faster, in larger quantities, and at a low enough cost to make it an effective tool in the fight against climate change?
Today we are excited to announce Heirloom, a company dedicated to harnessing and accelerating carbon mineralization to help restore balance to our atmosphere. By 2035, our direct air capture technology will permanently remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and store it safely and permanently underground.
We are optimistic that, together with the growing climate community of activists, advocates, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, and global citizens, we can help curb climate change and shape a world that’s more resilient, equitable, and prosperous for everyone.
The case for carbon dioxide removal
Over the last several years it has become clear that decarbonization is a necessary but insufficient ingredient to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 °C. Decades of inaction have resulted in there no longer being a credible path to prevent runaway climate change without removing a large chunk of the trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. It’s not an either-or; we need to stop generating new emissions and remove those already in the atmosphere.
The market has responded, and the demand for high-quality carbon removal is growing rapidly. Voluntary buyers are already purchasing carbon credits to offset their emissions to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Compliance markets like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme provide blueprints for the $100B+ carbon markets to come. The trend is overwhelming — globally, an increasing percentage of emissions are subject to regulation, at higher prices, year after year. If humankind is going to remove tens of gigatons of carbon each year, the industry will be one of the largest in history. The companies that can do it profitably will be some of the biggest we have ever known.
Unfortunately, existing carbon dioxide removal solutions, and direct air capture, in particular, are too expensive to scale. Today, the words “direct air capture” conjures visions of kilometer-long walls of industrial-grade fans, drawing enormous quantities of energy, and forcing air through highly-engineered sorbents. At Heirloom, we’re building a system that significantly simplifies this vision.
Highly scalable direct air capture at a fraction of the cost
At its core, direct air capture is a two-phase process:
- Capture: CO2 is captured from the air by chemical reaction with a solid or liquid “sorbent”
- Regeneration: the CO2 and sorbent are separated to generate a stream of pure CO2 which can be stored permanently underground.
The regeneration phase is usually an energy-intensive process governed by the laws of thermodynamics. There’s a limit to what can be done to reduce the energy use and cost associated with it. But the capture phase is more flexible, and that is where Heirloom’s magic lies.
Naturally occurring minerals — alongside forests, soils, and the ocean — are one of our planet’s most vital carbon sinks. Over geological timescales, carbon dioxide in the air and water chemically bind to minerals and permanently turn to stone. This natural process forms the basis of our capture phase. Co-invented by the leading experts in direct air capture and carbon mineralization (a special thank you to Dr. Peter Kelemen, Dr. Jen Wilcox, Dr. Greg Dipple, Dr. Phil Renforth, Dr. Wade McGillis, and our very own Noah McQueen), we’ve drawn on decades of experience across direct air capture and carbon mineralization to fundamentally re-imagine the cost of removing CO2 from the air. Combined with our team’s deep experience in scaling industrial automation and robotics companies, we have the foundation to build the world’s first highly scalable direct air capture system.
Our technology will be among the lowest-cost solutions available for two reasons. First, the minerals we start with — carbonates — are amazingly abundant, and constitute one of the most widely available commodities in the world. Using carbonates as a sorbent material costs less than 1% of the highly engineered counterparts used in many direct air capture technologies today. Second, Heirloom’s proprietary techniques offer a means to enhance the mineral’s natural rate of carbon uptake, reducing the years-long geological process to a matter of days, and allowing us to passively expose the sorbent to the ambient air. A highly-optimized Passive Air Contactor and automated materials handling system lets nature do some of the work for us, minimizing the land, energy, and cost required to remove CO2 on the scale needed to address climate change.
The US Geological Survey assessed that, in the US alone, there are about 3,000 gigatons of CO2 storage capacity in reservoirs over 3,000 feet below the earth’s surface. At that depth, the risk of negative second-order impacts like groundwater system interference and seismic activity is very low. And nearly every region of the world has at least 100 gigatons of storage potential. The result is a technology that can be sited anywhere with geologic CO2 storage and low-cost renewable energy, creating a brand new class of truly global climate jobs.
Inspired by nature, our vision at Heirloom is to enhance the carbon mineralization process and apply it to a high-quality direct air capture system with a long-term path to $50/tCO2 removed. By combining the best of engineering and nature, we can offer the most cost-effective and scalable direct air capture solution in the world.
High-quality, low-cost carbon dioxide removal is the key to scale
Today, carbon dioxide removal is an essential part of the portfolio of approaches to fight climate change. But not all solutions are created equal. If carbon dioxide removal is going to scale to tens of gigatons per year, we need investment into the highest-quality, lowest-cost innovations, as well as standards and regulation to ensure that solutions are truly carbon-negative.
What makes a carbon removal solution “high-quality”?
- Durable: captured CO2 should be stored away for as long as possible, preferably for thousands of years.
- Additional: there should be additional CO2 removed, above and beyond what would have happened in a business-as-usual case.
- Timely: removing CO2 today is preferred to removing it tomorrow in order to avoid climate tipping points like ecosystem collapse or ice sheet loss.
- Sustainable: land, water, feedstock, and energy usage should be minimized to ensure the process is truly regenerative and non-extractive.
- Net-negative: the cradle-to-grave emissions should be well understood so we can accurately calculate how much net CO2 is actually being removed.
- Monitorable: the energy and emissions at each step of the process should be continuously monitored to ensure that CO2 is efficiently captured and contained within the system.
- Renewable: all systems should operate on as much renewable energy as possible.
- Resilient: equipment and operations must be designed to be resilient and adaptable to changing weather and climate.
- Safe: solutions must pose little to no risk to the health of workers, local communities, and surrounding ecosystems.
A hopeful future is within reach
We are doing this because we care deeply about our planet and everyone on it. Because we care about protecting the land, oceans, and all the biodiversity they hold. Because we care about justice for the people and communities who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, despite having contributed the least to the problem. Our concern for others and the planet is our single greatest motivating force in our fight for a better future.
We envision a future where humans recognize past failures and correct them. Where natural landscapes are restored and protected. Where cars and planes are powered by sustainable energy sources. Where you can breathe in fresh, clean air in the once polluted megacities of the past. Where the health of the people and the planet are the new bottom line. Where the summertime heat in India is celebrated, not dreaded. Where we cherish the fresh air in September in California. And where billions of people around the world can continue to enjoy the sand below their feet in vibrant, thriving coastal communities.
That future is possible, and we are here to help make it happen.
Thank you to Carbon180 for the advice, advocacy, and generally great work you do to support Heirloom and the CDR industry. And thank you to our advisors, customers, and investors who are the absolute best that anyone in the climate community could hope for. We can’t wait to share more details soon!
Join us on the engineering challenge of the century
To make this happen, we need your help. Direct air capture is one of the hardest and biggest engineering challenges of the centuries, and if solved, will play a significant part in reversing climate change.
We are accelerating towards a demonstration plant that will prove that our system works with a durable cost advantage. We are hiring across hardware engineering, chemical/process engineering, and operations! If you’re motivated to join the fight against climate change, value radical candor and transparency, are persistently optimistic, and a voracious learner, we want to hear from you.
Our open positions:
We will continue to add new roles over the next few months. Stay up to date by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter or checking out the current open positions on our Careers page. And finally, if you are interested in purchasing Heirloom Carbon Credits, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.