To meet the challenge of our climate crisis requires humanity to reinvent industries on a global scale. Eliminating emissions as fast as possible is critical, and it has become clear we also need to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, as well as prevent more from collecting. As we do this a new question emerges, where do we put it? Carbix is working on a solution for long-term carbon storage while simultaneously decarbonizing cement, a notoriously hard to clean up industry. I sat down with Quincy, their CEO, to find out how.
Alex: Enhanced Weathering is a term that more and more people are learning about as climate science goes mainstream, yet its geological nature feels so distant to human timescales. How are you learning from nature to take on the challenge of producing carbon negative cement?
Quincy: Nature has perfected the capture of CO2, but over timescales that are far beyond the urgency of humanity’s climate crisis. We know from extensively studying the natural carbonation cycle of minerals like calcium silicates and olivine that certain conditions must co-exist in order for CO2 to turn to stone. At Carbix, we have distilled this biological process to engineering parameters optimizing heat, pressure, mixing rate, UV-C and CO2 injection.
We don’t have to pipe CO2 underground near hydrothermal veins to achieve optimal heat and pressure for carbonation. To further speed up the process we learned from the chemistry of the upper atmosphere that UV-C light energy can enhance carbonation reactions at lower pressures than what may be possible on Earth. The Big Reactor in the Sky (Sun + upper atmosphere) has taught us the role that UV-C light plays in generating hydroxyl radicals (OH) to accelerate the carbonation process.
Our X1 reactor has been designed from day one to give us control of these key variables.
Alex: Can you tell us about the X1? What does it look like to potentially deploy in the world to meet the incredible scale of construction?
Quincy: The X1 reactor scales up to about 150m3 (cubic meters) to meet the demand of the cement and concrete industry. In operation we need a few inputs. Certain minerals, like olivine, have the greatest carbon sequestration potential so we’ll be finding sources with the smallest carbon footprint possible to ship in. The other critical input is CO2, which we can get by partnering with direct air capture (DAC) technologies or at lower concentrations through direct smokestack effluent. While effluent has lower CO2 concentrations, it actually is still a good feedstock since we then forgo DAC costs and capture other pollutants which otherwise end up in our air and lungs. We also will need energy and water, which we hope to get from renewable sources and lower costs with water recirculation and energy recovery devices.
Alex: Ooh sounds sci-fi!
The X1 reactor looks like something out of an “Alien” movie series so I guess that makes it Alien tech hahah.
The design keeps in mind that size and speed matters when it comes to tackling the emissions from cement making, which accounts for up to 8–10% of GHG global emissions! It’s a huge climate issue, and a huge market as cement and concrete products are a nearly $330B annual global market. The use of concrete, as well as heavy CO2 emitters, are distributed across the globe so the X1 can be deployed as a single unit or scaled to multiple to match the rate of emissions or concrete production needed.
Alex: You’re a young company, yet already in deep conversations with large companies about working together. Can you share more about the appetite in industry for climate solutions?
Quincy: The interest is strong from the industry to reduce their GHG footprints. The public and private incentives are expanding but already moving the industry in our direction. The US and other major governments have incentives through the 45-Q and LCFS standard (California) to help pull the industry in. The call to action — in a country like Japan for example, are mandates that require cement companies to reduce their GHG footprint by 30% by 2030, no exceptions.
These incentives are important because the scale we’re talking about is so big. One potential customer, Dangote-West Africa as the example, processes nearly 6000 metric tons per day of clinker at one plant!. That’s an annual rate of nearly 2.0Mt (megatons). Other cement plants have production rates of about half that at 1MM(megaton per year), like Mitsubishi.
We’re in talks and even sharing ideas on which product makes sense to pilot. Dangote proposed the idea of creating tiles with carbon negative carbonates and oxides so that every one of their customers can buy carbon negative products. Imagine that — individuals and businesses can beautify their homes and offices and become climate champions while effortlessly installing tiles. We think it’s an amazing idea as it lets consumers vote with their dollars to act on climate change.
Quincy: We’re all passionate about protecting our natural environment (and the humans in it) and have been so for most of our lives. It’s an internal drive. We’re also technologists. So for us the pathway to healing the plant comes through technology, like the X1 reactor. Inspiration to take this direct path to removing CO2 from the atmosphere and creating products like cement and concrete is driven in part by the scale of impact we can make. What we’re doing works in parallel with the transition to a clean energy infrastructure by giving the planet some “breathing room“ until the transition is complete.
Myself, I have over 10 years in clean energy design engineering, with a previous finance background. Dr. Vintit Dighe has also been in the cleantech space. He is an expert in fluid dynamics, wind energy, and machine learning. He‘s developing fluid and chemistry solvers to guide enhancements to the X1 reactor kinetics. Samip Desai has a clean energy and finance background in cleantech and is actively working in business development to bring in multinational cement and concrete ready mix producers.