A Carbon Capture Startup in the Fight Against Climate Change

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You Don’t Need a Weatherman…

The summer of 2023 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest in recorded history. Climate scientists say the extreme heat, combined with other weather phenomena, contributed to this summer’s epic ocean storms, wildfires, flooding, and droughts.

It’s become almost impossible to ignore the extreme weather we’re experiencing globally. “The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. “Climate breakdown has begun.”

CO2 emissions are the main driver of global warming and have increased to record highs. Emissions increased by 1.1% in 2023, largely due to the post-COVID economic rebound and an increase in the use of fossil fuels such as coal.

Global CO2 emissions are projected to decline after 2025 because of declining demand for coal, but temperatures are still likely to increase by 1.5°C before 2035. That means we have to increase our work on adapting technology and industry to mitigate emissions now.

A new global climate deal from the UN climate conference, COP28, doesn’t require countries to completely phase out fossil fuel use, but rather relies on investments in renewable energy and carbon removal techniques to mitigate the impacts of greenhouse gasses.

And just this month, on March 26, The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations under the Biden administration will award up to $6 billion dollars to 33 projects focused on decarbonizing energy-intensive industries in more than 20 states.* This is the largest industrial decarbonization investment in U.S. history.

How It Works

Carbon capture has generated some controversy about its effectiveness. There’s the fear that carbon capture may be implemented by major global companies to reduce pressure to abandon fossil fuels completely. That fear may not be unwarranted as Shell, BP, TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, Chevron, along with other major players are part of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. Many climate scientists and activists see this as a way to justify the expansion of fossil fuel production. Despite the controversy, some experts, including those on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change still believe that some form of carbon capture is necessary to reach 1.5°C goals.

So, what exactly is carbon capture?

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage — CCUS– involves the capture of CO2 emissions from industrial processes, such as steel and cement production, or from the burning of fossil fuels in power generation, or from the ocean. This carbon is then transported from where it was produced, via ship, truck, or trains, or in a pipeline, and stored deep underground in geological formations, or in the ocean on the seafloor.

Carbon dioxide removal –CDR– refers to approaches that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and from water, rather than from direct emissions, before storing it. CCUS and CDR are both significant tools to achieve climate goals because they both reduce the amount of CO₂ that is pooled into the atmosphere and the ocean.

A Vycarb system envisioned as integrated with a mining operation.

It’s important to note that all by itself, the oceans are the planet’s largest carbon sink, absorbing about 31% of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere. The oceans also capture 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions. So how much carbon are we capturing and processing from the oceans?

Measure, Measure, Measure

Garrett Boudinot is the founder and CEO of a carbon capture startup in New York City called Vycarb, a Brooklyn-based startup that builds distributive systems that measure, remove, and store CO2 using water. About the startup’s mission Garrett says that, “Ultimately, our goal is to remove CO₂ in water at the gigaton scale, with high-quality and high-impact measurement.”

“Historically, water-based carbon has been very difficult to quantify. For this reason, other companies who remove CO₂ in water have chosen to rely on modeling to understand the impact of their projects. At Vycarb, we measure the entirety of the carbon cycle directly and in real time. This means a lower cost and a more distributed approach to CO₂ removal. It also means carbon projects that partners and buyers can trust.”

While developing the technology to accomplish Vycarb’s goals, Garrett is also deeply interested in mitigating the moral hazard, as he calls it. “Big polluters should not be solely focusing on sustainability and carbon capture alone. It’s not a zero-sum game. Those industries will still be emitting. While we decarbonize, we need to also remove the CO₂ that’s been emitted.”

Garrett has been interested in environmental issues, particularly climate change, “from as early as I can remember. It’s always been my guiding star main issue. My earliest classes covered climate change and I was fascinated by the science. But I also began to question how we allowed ourselves to get to the point of ecological degradation.”

Garrett earned a B.S. in geology and environmental geosciences and a B.A. in religious studies from the College of Charleston, where he performed research on climate change and pollution impacts on water and soil quality, as well as religious, economic, and political responses to climate change. Garrett’s childhood interest in “why” and his academic pursuits in college led him to focus on spiritual ecology. Those principles combine science and spirituality to resolve such environmental issues as depletion of species, global warming, and over-consumption. Spiritual ecologists believe that humanity must examine and reassess underlying attitudes and beliefs about the earth, and our spiritual responsibilities toward the planet.

Garrett completed his Ph.D. in organic geochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder on the ecological impacts of global climate change, using analytical chemistry to measure changes in global and local carbon cycling and ecology.

He’s currently an Activate NY Fellow, which provides early-stage science entrepreneurs with funding, technical resources, and support.

Hope Springs Eternal

Garrett has already spent most of his career studying the problem of climate change. “Sadly, it can be very depressing. So working on solutions at Vycarb is restorative personally, as well as environmentally. But this work is also daunting in itself — which made working with the URBAN-X accelerator particularly exciting — that team is brilliant. Their focus on the big picture along with the granular details of running an innovative tech business is difficult to quantify.”

“Just five years ago we had no idea we would be in a place to develop solutions. We were busy convincing people that climate change was a thing. We all have a lot of work to do. But now there’s hope.”


Written by
Thomas Falconer
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