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‘COVID-19 will accelerate investments into Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage’: interview

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The CEO of a company focusing on a sustainable energy transition by capturing Carbon and using it as a feedstock believes that COVID-19 will accelerate investments into a new industry called Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS).

Moji Karimi
Moji Karimi

“COVID has exposed how delicate and complex our supply chain is. That’s an opportunity for CCUS” — Moji Karimi

Moji Karimi, Co-Founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory — a company developing economical carbon-negative solutions for a sustainable future — tells The Sociable that COVID-19 has exposed how delicate the world’s supply chain is, and that the lockdowns have given many people a glimpse into what cleaner air looks like.

“We believe that COVID’s actually going to accelerate the investment into CCUS, and more specifically for biological methods of CCUS, and that’s for a few reasons,” said Karimi.

“COVID has exposed how delicate and complex our supply chain is. That’s an opportunity for CCUS, because the idea of CCUS is to use CO2 that’s either in the air or in flue gas from a power plant or from a refinery, and use it then to make the chemicals instead of having to bring in the chemicals from another place.

“This is called a controlled or closed-loop supply chain, and I think it’s going to be really needed post-COVID, and CCUS offers that,” he added.

“We believe that COVID’s actually going to accelerate the investment into CCUS” — Moji Karimi

According to Cemvita Factory’s newly-released white paper on “Envisioning a Low-Carbon Energy Transition for the Oil and Gas Industry, Enabled by Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS):”

Technological advances in CCUS can reduce oil and gas’ carbon footprint and build a self-sustaining model that fits with a low-carbon energy transition.

Furthermore, as technology advances, CCUS has the potential to create an entirely new market with high-profit margins.

Oil and gas companies, who are facing yet another downturn due to a price war and COVID-19’s impact on evaporating oil demand, can sustain profit while becoming low-carbon and sustainable.

But what exactly is CCUS; how does it work; and what does it offer?

“Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage is a collection of technologies that work towards using CO2 as a feedstock” — Moji Karimi

Microbe Feedstock
Microbe Feedstock

“Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage is a collection of technologies that work towards using CO2 as a feedstock,” said Karimi.

“The first part is the Capture — either directly from the air or all the way to using the flue gas of power plants and refineries. That’s the capture part.

“The Utilization is then to use that CO2 as a feedstock in the same way that we are using natural gas and other chemicals as feedstock.

“There’s one Carbon there, and two Oxygens. CO2 is a very stable molecule, so it’s hard to use it as a feedstock, but there are ways to do it.

“And CO2 Utilization is either converting the CO2 into other molecules like other chemicals and fuels, or into what are called ‘aggregates,’ which could be something like carbon fiber. The CO2 molecule may not be changing, but it is being used in the process to make something else. That’s the Utilization part.

Storage is the idea to basically take that CO2 that is captured and to store it somewhere. It’s out of the Carbon cycle.”

“Most commonly, all the work that has been done in that area has been for what is called CO2 sequestration, which is pumping the CO2 in the subsurface in deep reservoirs or in saline aquifers, which basically hides the CO2 away in the subsurface,” Karimi went on to explain.

“In some areas, people have experienced what cleaner air looks like, and I think this is going to add more pressure on companies with high carbon footprints post-COVID to bring the carbon footprint down” — Moji Karimi

“So, a combination of these technologies is what they call Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage, and the reason that it is all coming up now and becoming a thing beyond just one method into what I’m now calling an industry is because of this pressure that is on companies with high carbon footprints like oil and gas, petrochemicals, mining, steel making, concrete — they’re being forced to reduce their Carbon footprints,” he added.

“One way to do that is to change their operations to create less CO2, but even if you do all of that, it’s still not enough to cap the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees by 2050,” said Karimi.

“So, what that means is it’s already too late. We also proactively need to take CO2 out of the cycle.

“That’s where the Utilization comes into play, and the Capture, either from the air or from the flue gas — meaning that the CO2 is being emitted, but then it’s being captured and used for something else and creating these closed loop systems so that it’s not just being emitted.

“All of that is shaping up as an industry,” Karimi added.

Apart from creating a closed-loop system which can strengthen supply chains, Karimi added that COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of how clean the air can be, and that experience will make CCUS all the more desirable.

“In some areas, people have experienced what cleaner air looks like, and I think this is going to add more pressure on companies with high carbon footprints post-COVID to bring the carbon footprint down,” said Karimi.

“As a matter of fact, already you see a lot of initiatives around building sustainability into rebuilding the economy for different states and countries.”

“Some CCUS applications that may not be economical today, could be economical in three or five years from now” — Moji Karimi

Cemvita Factory’s platform uses synthetic biology, biotechnology, and engineering to enhance microorganisms’ innate ability to utilize, convert, and assimilate CO2.

Karimi explained that beyond the oil and gas industry, CCUS applications have the potential to disrupt many industries, and that biotech companies were beginning to focus on CCUS, but changed course towards vaccines due to the pandemic.

“There is now this race to build a vaccine, and with that there’s going to be billions of dollars invested in developing that,” said Karimi.

“And I think there’s going to be a ripple effect where all that investment is going to help to bring the cost of biotechnology down a little bit in general.”

Karimi’s prediction takes a lesson from history.

“When there’s a huge amount of investment in an area, that benefits all the other sectors, too, that are using that same technology.

“Some CCUS applications that may not be economical today, could be economical in three or five years from now,” he concluded.

Disclaimer: This story contains a client of an ESPACIO portfolio company.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co