The largest driver of global warming, carbon dioxide is at its highest level in our atmosphere than any point over the last 8,000 years. And as carmakers and politicians race to come up with solutions, one Pasadena-based firm called CarbonCapture has a bold plan to help humans remove emissions from the air and in doing so innovate a way out of climate change.
"We are at a tipping point and right now we've run out of time," said CarbonCapture CEO Adrian Corless. "What really scares me is the current projections that we're actually going to continue to increase emissions through 2035."
CarbonCapture raised a $35 million Series A round Tuesday to grow its team and begin deploying a network of machines that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using renewable energy. The system works by trapping carbon molecules in the air and storing them to be broken down or safely released elsewhere, like underground.
The company aims to have device prototypes up and running within two years. Capturing and dispelling carbon dioxide from the air at a global scale hasn't been possible yet, and it's a more lofty aspiration for solving climate change than some other more common ground-based solutions -- like using less fossil fuels or limiting energy consumption.
To really work at the highest level, every country would need to be using a vast number of the CarbonCapture devices to remove carbon dioxide at scale. It's a challenge, but Corless said he thinks it's possible to create new tech to help us escape the damage of climate change.
"There's all sorts of industries that scale up and deliver things like this," he said. "The solar industry was a great example, it took a couple decades, but they are able to deliver of hundreds of millions of panels per year (now)."
Several other companies, including Climeworks, Global Thermostat and Canada-based Carbon Engineering, where Corless used to be CEO, are working to tackle this problem of erasing carbon dioxide from the air. Government incentives are a key way to get private companies on board, Corless said, and they're more common now in "progressive parts of the globe" like the U.S., Canada and the E.U.
Tax breaks for carbon neutrality will "take you a long ways towards solving a problem and integrating a huge industry," Corless said, but noted it'll be hard to get other high-emitting countries like China, Russia, Brazil and India to get on board.
CarbonCapture was launched at Bill Gross' Pasadena startup incubator IdeaLab in 2019. Since then, it's raised over $43 million to date. Gross is a co-founder of CarbonCapture and serves as its chairman in addition to leading Heliogen, a Pasadena-based energy company working to replace fossil fuels with sun energy.
The raise was led by Prime Movers Lab. Two Idealab funds –Idealab Studio and Idealab X – joined the round alongside Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who invested through his company TIME Ventures, as did international mining company Rio Tinto, a new investor which will use the prototype devices at its mining site in Minnesota.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that even though more people stayed at home during the global coronavirus pandemic, the world still hit new record high levels of carbon dioxide in 2020 -- and since 2000, carbon dioxide levels have increased 12%.
"We're really in a scary point in the Earth's history right now, so there's consensus that we need to shift the narrative, we need to reduce emissions," Corless said.
- BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues ›
- Meet 3 Early Stage Science Startups at First Look's Showcase - dot.LA ›
- Newlight Technologies Turns Pollution into BioPlastics - dot.LA ›
Concrete is everywhere because it's versatile.
It's used in everything from Earth's "worst architectural eyesores" to Rome's beloved Pantheon, as the BBC laid out in a 2018 story on the material. But the production of cement poses a huge threat to the climate. It's currently responsible for a whopping 8% of global carbon emissions.
Some companies aim to chip away at this problem by swapping in other materials such as limestone. Another strategy is to trap captured carbon emissions inside concrete.
Los Angeles-based CarbonBuilt aims to profitably do both. CarbonBuilt announced Wednesday that it's raised $10 million to grow its team and further develop its tech, which the company calls "Reversa."
"A single concrete block produced using the Reversa platform is able to permanently store about ¾ of a pound of carbon dioxide," the company said in a press release. "Combined with CarbonBuilt's best-in-class economics and scalability, Reversa accelerates humanity's path towards gigatonne-scale carbon removal and even larger emissions reductions."The deal was led by the Grantham Environmental Trust's investment fund. Other participating investors include Hyatt Hotel heir Tony Pritzker, Boston-based Lime Street Ventures and San Francisco-based Climate Capital.
- Rehrig Finds a Way to Recylce Trash into Trash Cans - dot.LA ›
- Thin Line Capital's Aaron Fyke on Clean Tech Investing - dot.LA ›
- LA's Clean Tech Startups Tackle Climate Change - dot.LA ›
Aspiration, a banking company that's endeared itself to celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio with its sustainable banking model, plans to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in a deal valued at about $2.3 billion.
By merging with InterPrivate III Financial Partners Inc., a publicly traded shell business, Aspiration will have access to more than $400 million in cash. The funds will in part go towards "marketing and further investment in product innovation and technology," the companies announced Wednesday. Aspiration expects to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "ASP" sometime during the fourth quarter.
When the deal closes, Aspiration claims it will become "the only publicly traded consumer financial institution that is a Public Benefit Corporation."
With backing from DiCaprio, Cindy Crawford, Drake and other stars, Aspiration said its financial services "help individuals and companies fight the climate crisis in ways that are easy, automatic, engaging, and powerful." The fintech company pitches itself as an alternative to banks that continue to finance fossil fuel businesses even as the consequences of the climate emergency come into focus.
For individual users, Aspiration promises a platform to "help customers keep their deposits out of fossil fuels, automatically plant trees with every card purchase, and track business and personal Planet & People impact scores so they can shop with a conscience." The company also offers businesses a way to offset their carbon footprint.
"The risk with offsets is when they create moral hazard, which is when companies, or governments, or individuals would rather continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere and pay someone else to create offsets rather than taking a hard look at how to reduce their own emissions," Alex Rudee of the World Resources Institute told Grist in April.
Los Angeles-based Aspiration opened up to customers in 2015 and in the years that followed it has racked up more than 5 million members. In the past year alone, the company reports it has seen "7x growth" while "planting on average more trees each day than there are in New York's Central Park."
Before co-founding the company, CEO Andrei Cherny reportedly worked as a speechwriter for the Clinton administration, helped Senator Elizabeth Warren develop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and worked as a fraud prosecutor and consulted for big banks.