Most business accelerators focus on community economic development. But the new six-month Carbon to Value Initiative (C2V) acceleration program is all about ways to capture and convert carbon dioxide into something useful. The Urban Future Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Greentown Labs and Fraunhofer USA collaborated to pick the first cohort. This program is the first of its kind.
They narrowed down more than 130 applications from 26 countries and chose 10 startups for 2021. The participating startups’ solutions to excess atmospheric carbon range from Iceland-based Carbfix’ process for turning CO2 into stone stored underground to New York-based Air Company’s transformation of carbon dioxide into alcohols for use in spirits and sanitizers.
Pat Sapinsley, managing director of clean-tech initiatives at the Urban Future Lab / ACRE at NYU Tandon School of Engineering spoke with Inhabitat via email to share more about this exciting initiative.
Inhabitat: Please give us just a little history about the Carbon to Value Initiative.
Sapinsley: Launched in 2020 by The Urban Future Lab at New York University-Tandon, Greentown Labs and the Fraunhofer USA TechBridge Program, the Carbon to Value (C2V) Initiative is a unique partnership driving the creation of a thriving innovation ecosystem for the commercialization of carbontech — technologies that capture and convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable end products or services. The C2V Initiative is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Consulate General of Canada in New York (CNGNY).
The initiative follows Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State speech in 2019, in which he proposed the idea that New York should address the issue of atmospheric carbon removal and proposed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, requiring reductions in statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 15% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Inhabitat: Tell us about how the concept developed.
Sapinsley: Greentown Labs, Urban Future Lab and Fraunhofer’s have a long-standing partnership and shared commitments to our decarbonized future. Throughout many months of planning and a collective vision for fostering a nascent carbontech industry, the multi-year, first-of-its-kind initiative was formed. Each partner brings its own unique strengths, networks, offerings and areas of expertise, and the accelerator segment of the initiative is built upon Greentown Labs’ Greentown Launch model.
According to scientists, reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone will not be enough to keep global warming below an average of two degrees Celsius globally. More than 100 gigatons of carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, must be removed from the atmosphere by 2050. These efforts will be particularly important in hard-to-decarbonize industries, such as construction materials, chemicals, aviation and agriculture.
Analysts predict that carbontech could comprise a trillion-dollar market opportunity, in sectors as diverse as fuels, cement production, industrial gases, chemicals and polymers and new materials. However, the carbontech industry is still nascent, and many promising solutions will not be cost-effectively scaled in the timeframe necessary without support for their expedited development.
The three-year C2V Initiative will connect innovative young companies with industry leaders in the chemicals, advanced materials, energy and other sectors who can provide the resources and market access necessary to enable rapid commercialization of carbontech.
According to the New York State Decarbonization Pathways Analysis Summary of Draft Findings released in 2020 and commissioned by the New York State Climate Action Council, removing carbon from the atmosphere, also referred to as “negative emissions,” could account for up to 15% of the reductions needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and will help New York State reach sectors of the economy that are challenging to decarbonize.
Inhabitat: You received 131 applications. Did you expect that many, and what was the overall quality?
Sapinsley: For the first year of the initiative, we were impressed by the number and quality of the applications. We were not sure how many applications to expect, considering the industry is still nascent. We are aware of about 400 startups globally that can be classified as carbontech, and the fact that more than 25% of them globally applied to C2V demonstrates the clear need for building a strong ecosystem, as many of these solutions will require new carbon value chains to be built and ultimately partnerships.
We ended up down-selecting 24 very strong candidates but ultimately had capacity to select only 10 companies into the first cohort.
Inhabitat: What kind of programming have you arranged for accelerator participants?
Sapinsley: Over the next six months, the cohort will refine the value proposition of their technology in different industry verticals as well as explore collaboration opportunities with the corporates, carbontech experts and governmental members of the Carbontech Leadership Council (CLC) through a workshop format. Together, the CLC and cohort members will cover key areas such as value chain and technology partnerships, carbon monetization pathways, the financing landscape for carbontech and more.
The cohort companies will also benefit from mentorship opportunities through the NYSERDA Entrepreneur-In-Residence program, combined with the Greentown Labs mentor network.
Inhabitat: What facilities will be available to incubator participants?
Sapinsley: For the duration of the accelerator, the startups will receive complimentary membership and access to Greentown Labs, the largest climate-tech startup incubator in North America with locations in Boston and Houston with 100,000 square feet of lab space, shared office space, a machine shop, an electronics lab and software and business resources, as well as access the Urban Future Lab’s network of investors, experts and community of founders.
Inhabitat: What are some ideas that you’re especially excited about from this cohort?
Sapinsley: This first 2021 cohort was selected to demonstrate a wide diversity of carbontech solutions, from carbon capture to utilization with many different technological pathways and markets, as well as carbon sequestration — with different levels of risks and maturity.
For instance, there is a company (Planetary Hydrogen) leveraging the ocean as a large-scale natural carbon sink, with the potential to capture more than 40 tons of CO2 per tons of hydrogen produced, resulting in massive potential climate impact.
Another one (Made of Air) makes building materials and furniture out of CO2 naturally captured by plants, transforming biomass residues into biochar-based plastics.
Each of the 10 companies are really unique and are focusing on creating value from carbon in some way or another. We encourage everyone to learn more about them here.
Inhabitat: How do you picture a future carbontech economy?
Sapinsley: Ultimately, a future carbontech economy is one that will use CO2 as a feedstock to make useful products for humanity, instead of dumping it into the atmosphere as a waste. Carbontech can also be regenerative for our planet, i.e. by capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it into long-lived products and/or storing it over >100-1,000 years, we can restore the CO2 concentration present in the atmosphere to safer levels and avoid the catastrophic impacts and costs of climate change.
Inhabitat: Anything else readers should know?
Sapinsley: Interested readers should subscribe for updates at https://www.c2vinitiative.com/updates.
Images via Adobe Stock