Heirloom Carbon Technologies, a San Francisco-based purpose-driven tech startup, has announced how it plans to pull a billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere by 2035.
Dedicated to bending the global temperature curve down, Heirloom is one of the first companies to pioneer enhanced weathering as an approach to carbon removal.
The startup’s new approach can reportedly be accomplished for $50 per ton of CO2 removed. That price point is markedly below other industrialized attempts at solving this problem. Recent estimates of direct air capture efforts, for instance, range from $94 to over $200 per ton.
Although still a very young company, the startup is highly dedicated to quickly expand its capabilities.
The Latest Innovation to Carbon Removal Tech
Heirloom’s innovative solution to carbon removal is built around a process called enhanced weathering.
Rock and soil are naturally broken down over time through chemical weathering. As this occurs, the loose earth reacts with the air and stores carbon that is usually then carried into the ocean or locked into new rock. According to Carbon Brief, chemical weathering is currently responsible for removing .3% of annual fossil fuel emissions.
Through enhanced weathering, this process can be exponentially sped up to boost its impact. There are different takes on how to develop enhanced weathering, and Heirloom has gone to great lengths ensuring theirs is both cost-effective and scalable. The startup is carefully keeping a lid on some of the specifics of its system, but the general idea is very promising.
The first step is to create or secure oxide minerals like calcium oxide. These minerals are highly reactive and ready to bond with the carbon dioxide in the air. At that point, the oxide minerals are laid out over a large area and stacked on top of each other.
Over two weeks, the materials can absorb carbon in the air. All that is then left to do is heat the minerals to the point where they release the CO2 they have absorbed and safely store that carbon in the earth.
This process is exceptionally brilliant because the minerals can endlessly be recycled. Moreover, all the CO2 that is collected can be stored in a way that actually encourages plant growth and enriches the soil. Soil degradation is increasingly threatening agricultural centers across the world, so the ability to help create more fertile farmland would have massive implications for feeding the world’s growing population.
Building the Foundation
At $50 per ton, the startup proposes one of the most economical options for sustainably combating climate change. However, until they can expand their operations, the cost will be much steeper.
Again, it is incredibly important to emphasize that Heirloom is still in its early stages of development. That said, it seems finding customers may be a challenging prospect. Given the startup’s current facilities, the price per ton of CO2 removed is just over $2,000.
Some businesses interested in exploring this new technology have been willing to pay that price point. However, cheaper alternatives do pose a significant threat to the carbon removal industry.
For example, forest and soil offsets are often used as a cheap way for businesses to claim carbon neutral status even though these options do not offer a long-term solution to lowering CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Supporting reforestation is an admirable action for many reasons, but natural processes simply cannot offset the current status of emissions being produced without additional support.
In terms of actively removing carbon already in the atmosphere, the debate is now primarily between the use of direct air capture and enhanced weathering. Direct air capture provides many of the same benefits of enhanced weathering. In addition to that, direct air capture technology has been heavily researched in recent years.
The issue with this style of carbon removal, however, is cost. Even the lowest estimates do not generally go below $100 per ton of CO2 removed. Because enhanced weathering depends more heavily on natural processes, the potential cost per ton is currently at only $50 per ton.
Making a Cleaner, More Sustainable World Affordable
There are certainly significant obstacles for the startup to overcome before it can become a mainstream option for businesses looking to reach carbon-neutral status. Still, there are also many reasons to be hopeful for the future.
Enhanced weathering is a natural process, but technological advances are at the center of how Heirloom plans to bring its costs down. Some of which include:
- AI and robotic automation
- Advancements in renewable energy sources
- Increased governmental support
- Optimizing the time required to absorb CO2
Some of these factors will be less reliable than others. Yet, Heirloom seems confident that they will quickly bring the business to a larger scale.
A Bright Future
For all the challenges that Heirloom Carbon Technologies faces, the carbon removal industry represents a major step forward for those businesses combating climate change.
Limiting future emissions is important. However, because CO2 levels in the atmosphere are already at such high levels, removing those greenhouse gasses will also be a crucial element of any long-term solution.
Enhanced weathering creates cleaner air and richer soil at the same time. Moreover, it achieves that at a bargain price. Still, the startup will have to prove its value to the market before that can happen.
The world desperately needs more innovative ways to protect the earth. Companies like Heirloom are walking for the moment, but with any luck, they will be running in short order.
There’s no doubt that more and more companies are announcing plans to become carbon neutral in the near future. They know it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. Consumers are becoming more active than ever by choosing brands that align with their values.
By investing in purpose-driven startups like Heirloom, companies can support something capable of truly changing the future for our planet.