NeoCarbon, a Berlin-based climate technology startup is taking a retrofit approach to scaling up direct emission capture (DAC) devices to absorb CO2 emissions that have attracted capital in advance. Its focus is on developing a DAC that can be installed (retrofited) inside cooling towers that are already operating in the industrial sector – so its promotion will work well, minimizing carbon emissions costs.
The €1.25 million seed round, co-led by PropTech1 and Speedinvest, will be used for the next phase of development as NeoCarbon works to turn its current lab-based proof-of-concept into a prototype test in a commercial facility – hopefully early next year. So they’ll be using pre-seed funds for that, including expanding their engineering team to get the MVP for a first pilot in the coming months.
The initial focus was on equipping DACs for smaller-scale industrial cooling towers – rather than the giant towers you might see in a power station. (Or really really small units that you can find on shopping malls or office buildings.) Though it does say it hopes, in the longer term, to develop technology for those buildings. really big tower. But it argues that even smaller industrial towers handle a lot of air and can therefore capture meaningful amounts of CO2 – and, well, the climate crisis won’t hang around and wait Large projects kick off, so its philosophy is to start smaller to scale faster.
Our co-founder and CTO Silvain Toromanoff in the near term, say 2-3 years, will be 1-10 megawatts of cooling capacity,” co-founder and CTO Silvain Toromanoff told TechCrunch via Zoom. “And they’re already in the thousands of tonnes of potential catch each year.”
“We did a very early proof of concept (POC) in the early days, in February,” he continued. “Now today we’re finishing up our first installment, what we call MVP – so it’s still very small. But POC is very low budget and more like quantity. Now that we’re working on it, basically this week the prototype MVP will give more qualitative results.
“We haven’t started measurements and testing with it yet but it’s basically in the final stages of actually getting it to work.”
While the DAC sounds great in theory – use chemicals to literally suck problematic emissions out into the air! – human activity is generating huge amounts of CO2 (NeoCarbon cites the relevant figure as 51 billion tons per year) so you would need a lot of DACs to make a crack in the climate crisis.
But a major barrier to DAC expansion is implementation cost.
NeoCarbon’s tactic to cut DAC costs is focused on repositioning existing industrial infrastructure that is already well-equipped to suck carbon out of the air – cooling towers are, after all, designed to let more air pass through them – meaning there’s no need to build a whole new CO2 capture mansion. (Though you have to make sure your technology can adapt to different installation conditions.)
As a result, they claim that they will be able to reduce the cost of the DAC by up to 10x – making the DAC “mass-market ready”, as they claim.
CO2 goes down the chimney
Another consideration for direct gas capture is, what do you do with the CO2 captured?
If you do something as simple as releasing it into the atmosphere again, you are – preferably – delaying rather than cutting emissions. This won’t cut it if you’re claiming to have a technology to help the climate crisis.
In the short term, NeoCarbon says its approach to the problem is to focus on locations where captured CO2 can be reused by the industrial facility itself – such as vertical farms. (using CO2 to feed plants) or carbonated drink manufacturers (using the tool for the fizz liquid).
This is another reason why it is settled on retrofitting industrial cooling towers – as they can be located close to a business need for CO2 – allowing carbon dioxide to be usefully supplied. back to commercial processes as a raw material. (Additionally, as well as climate considerations, it argues that there could be broader business benefits, such as increased supply chain resilience and reduced production costs because CO2 has already increased.) faced some shortages and price spikes in recent years).
However, this recirculation will only allow carbon neutralization processes. So, in the long term, Toromanoff says it is planning to work with pluggable (or rather, piped) facilities that capture CO2 into carbon-permanent storage facilities for sequestration. is actually possible (aka carbon capture and storage) – hence the possibility that the DAC plays its part in reducing climate-warming emissions. (“We already have some LOIs (letters of intent) and discussions around hosting partnerships – say early 2024 for the first projects,” Toromanoff noted.)
Once again, it is bet that the infrastructure to sequester carbon will most likely be built in locations with the types of industrial cooling towers it is targeting – as industries such as manufacturing and agriculture Industry faces increased pressure to tackle the large carbon footprint.
So, in general, their strategy to drive DAC uptake is to minimize demand, which they think will foster the right conditions to expand the technology – and thus, expand the utility of the DAC. as a measure to mitigate climate change – as well as to develop a technology licensing business around that.
The target customers to license cooling tower DAC technology – which the company wants to focus on as a business, along with scaling the technology – could ultimately be the manufacturers themselves. cooling tower output. After all, they have a lot of infrastructure built in but not a modern industry, so there is likely a lack of the kind of product innovation that allows them to develop such services in-house. to distinguish what are the industry standard components they are selling. (so working with a startup is one way to close that disruption gap).
“We are evolving by industry so that we can tailor our product to one or a limited number of industries at the outset and then expand. And of course, we’ve also contacted all of the biggest global players in cooling tower manufacturing,” said Toromanof, when discussing NeoCarbon’s go-to-market plans. “We are currently developing a Memorandum of Understanding with at least one of them which means we can co-develop our product with their cooling towers specifically.
“One thing that came up was the idea that we could focus on the imaging technology and they could focus on the connectivity part – this part is not the core of IP or the harder part is harder according to i.e. there are many types but technically it’s just connecting the pieces together. “
“In the long run, we don’t want to handle all this on our own because – for example – [for] international expansion, we don’t want to have a maintenance team especially when the cooling tower manufacturers already have this in place,” he added. “We can take advantage of [existing maintenance contract relationships they have with their customers] so they will also perform maintenance for our products. And of course, that means they will have some sort of exclusive license to use our product within a certain geographical area and time frame. “
It’s still early days for the startup, which was only founded in January, but the climate crisis didn’t last long so the NeoCarbon founders were keen to move as quickly as possible to scale up the prototype. Their family of hardware components has been tested and proven to increase CO2 – attraction to the cooling tower is just a ‘plug and play’ matter.
They were inspired to take a retrofit approach to drive DAC uptake by another climate tech startup – based in the US. Noya Labs – but suppose they have a bit of a different focus (i.e. on industrial rather than commercial buildings). Plus, of course they’re building in Europe (not the US), so will focus on 300,000 or so cooling towers they’ve identified where their technology can be fitted quickly. fastest in the region.
What is the biggest challenge to successfully scaling their technology? Toromanoff says one of the “most important” factors is to make sure they can retrofit their DAC without negatively impacting cooling (or actually creating any other problems). for industrial processes).
“It’s one of those things that’s non-negotiable because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do this so there are a number of ways we’re looking at this. It could also be something we need to develop with iterations but basically… if you add something on top of the cooling tower, it creates a bit of resistance to the airflow but at the same time they we also consume some heat so the idea is those two things [balance out],” he suggested. “Basically, the tower will actually be less efficient but it will also need to do less work.”
The startup’s origin story includes the meeting of two scientist co-founders at a co-founder matching event organized by the company. Antler the company builder in Berlin – after they both quit their jobs and were looking for startup ideas where they could make a quick climate impact. (The other founder of NeoCarbon is CEO René Haas, who was stuck on a delayed train for most of our Zoom chat.)
It was also at Antler – another participant in NeoCarbon’s previous seed raise, along with some unnamed angels – where the pair were brainstorming ideas when they came across what Noya Labs was working on. with a DAC retrofit and saw an opportunity to do something similar. Europe (and for Europe’s industrial infrastructure), which they also believe offers the best opportunity for them to leverage their existing entrepreneurial skills and experience, in the execution and expansion, given the urgent climate task of rapidly expanding DAC reception.
“The best-case scenario is to let it run by the end of Q1 next year,” said Toromanoff of the upcoming pilot, adding: “We have a very strong incentive to act as quickly as possible. [because of the climate crisis]. That’s why it’s also called an experiment – because we’re not pretending it’s going to be the final product, we’re also looking for a partner willing to take a little risk. “