California startup 'sponges' CO2 from the atmosphere: A innovative solution to mitigate carbon emissions.

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    Oct 31, 2023

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A California startup claims it can limit global warming by scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air using limestone as a sponge.


Heirloom Carbon, a company headquartered in San Francisco, has emerged as a prominent player in the developing field of capture technology. It has garnered substantial attention by recently partnering with Microsoft to aid the tech giant in achieving its zero-carbon objectives.

In order to address the alarming effects of climate change, governments worldwide are actively adopting similar innovative strategies. This response is fueled by the urgent need to mitigate the greenhouse effect, as current levels of CO2 emissions continue to contribute significantly to global environmental damage.

Shashank Samala, the CEO and co-founder of Heirloom, believes that the direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere is akin to a "time machine" that can transport us back to a time of cleaner air.

According to him, if your genuine desire is to reverse climate change and return to a previous state, carbon removal presents the most viable approach for eliminating past emissions from the atmosphere.

The topic of carbon capture will be a focal point during the COP28 climate negotiations scheduled to occur in Dubai from November 30th to December 12th.

There are those who perceive the transition towards a zero-emission world as imperative, while others worry that it is being wrongly praised as a simple solution to evade the necessary sacrifices required to combat climate change.

According to the IPCC, an influential body within the United Nations focused on climate change, the implementation of carbon capture and storage systems is deemed essential in order to restrict the rise in global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This underscores the necessity of embracing such technology.

Rewring the sponge

Heirloom has committed to a bold objective of eliminating one billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere annually by 2035, while avoiding any encouragement for companies to continue burning fossil fuels.

To effectively address the massive challenge outlined by the US National Academy of Sciences, where an estimated 10 to 20 billion tonnes of carbon must be eliminated annually until the close of this century, we need decisive actions that can make a significant impact.

According to Noah McQueen, cofounder and head of research at Heirloom, our innovative process involves harnessing the natural power of limestone, a mineral found in nature. By imbuing it with exceptional properties, we transform it into a remarkable sponge capable of effectively absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

He further mentioned that after extracting the CO2, we proceed to squeeze out any remaining residues and securely bury the carbon dioxide deep beneath the surface.

The memories of cyclones, droughts, and scorching heatwaves from his childhood in India are vividly etched in the mind of Cofounder Samala.

He recalled the time when his mother cleverly used a damp towel on a fan to create makeshift air conditioning.

Vulnerable individuals bear disproportionate impacts due to climate change.

After completing his engineering studies in the United States, Samala briefly joined Square, a fintech company. However, he soon ventured into entrepreneurship and went on to establish his own electronics company.

He expressed that the urgency to address climate-related issues was always present. The relentless occurrence of California wildfires and the alarming disappearance of coral reefs year after year propelled him towards considering a career change.

While examining the 2018 IPCC report, Samala focused her attention on carbon capture, a field that was in desperate need of innovation and financial support at that time.

No instances of 'miracles'

Direct Air Capture (DAC) techniques, exemplified by companies like Heirloom and Swiss pioneer Climeworks, distinguish themselves from carbon capture at source (CCS) systems, which primarily focus on capturing carbon dioxide emissions emitted through factory chimneys. Unlike CCS, which captures carbon dioxide at its point of origin, such as industrial smokestacks or power plant exhausts, DAC technologies specifically target the removal of carbon dioxide from ambient air. These innovative methods facilitate the reduction of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, contributing to efforts aimed at mitigating climate change. DAC systems employ advanced technologies that utilize chemical processes, filters, and sorbents to extract carbon dioxide directly from the surrounding air. By employing large-scale fans or other air circulation mechanisms, these devices pull in atmospheric air, allowing CO2 molecules to be selectively captured while releasing purified air back into the environment. On the other hand, CCS systems typically capture carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes before they are released into the atmosphere. They rely on various capture mechanisms, such as absorption, adsorption, or membrane separation, to trap and isolate carbon dioxide from flue gases produced during combustion or manufacturing operations. While both DAC and CCS technologies aim to reduce carbon dioxide levels, their fundamental approaches differ. DAC focuses on actively extracting carbon dioxide from the air, irrespective of its emission source, whereas CCS focuses on capturing carbon dioxide emissions released directly from specific sources like factory chimneys. Overall, DAC offers a promising avenue for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, complementing existing efforts to address climate change alongside other carbon mitigation strategies like CCS.

Heirloom chose limestone due to its abundant availability and expansive storage capacity, ensuring there is no shortage of space.

McQueen noted that solely within the borders of the United States, there exists ample capacity to accommodate the storage of all the emissions produced since the advent of the industrial revolution.

According to Cocoon's cofounder, Will Knapp, capturing CO2 directly from emission sources like factories or steel plants is considerably more feasible compared to extracting it from the overall atmosphere.

According to Knapp, the concentration of CO2 emitted by metal-making furnaces can range from 10 to 30%, which is significantly higher than the 0.4% concentration of CO2 found in the air we breathe.

He stated that trying to capture it from the overall atmosphere would be as challenging as locating a single needle in a haystack.

According to him, there is no magical solution for addressing climate change. However, he emphasized that we don't require miracles; instead, we simply need effective measures.

Samala, the proprietor of Heirloom, demonstrates unwavering dedication towards upholding stringent principles. One such commitment entails refraining from selling the CO2 back to businesses that would ultimately release it into the atmosphere once again.

He also strongly disapproves of the deceptive practice known as "greenwashing," especially prevalent in the oil and gas lobby, where they make ambiguous pledges about carbon removal merely to divert our attention.

Samala emphasized the immense challenge of defying the prevailing norms by stating, "It is undeniably arduous for us to deviate from the status quo, but it is precisely what we must undertake."

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