The carbon capture option: Three startups aiming to reduce CO2 with forest expansion, algae farming, and upcycling captured carbon

Image of Wong, Jovine and Cave

With the world emitting about 50 gigatons of CO2e per year, IPCC scientists are convinced that a climate disaster is unavoidable unless we remove carbon from the atmosphere. So too is the White House, which increased the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture in the Inflation Reduction Act (aka, the climate bill) from $50 to $85 per ton for the industrial sector, and to $180 per ton for direct air capture. At least 226 startups are working on carbon capture, but it still costs too much—from hundreds of dollars to over a thousand. Is there a way to bridge that gap at scale? 

The SOSV Climate Tech Summit (Oct. 25-26) gathered a panel of carbon capture founders to explore this question. You can play back their discussion below.

Dr. Raffael Jovine is founder and Chief Scientist of Brilliant Planet, which captures carbon by farming algae on coastal desert land. Powered by sun, seawater, and cheap nutrients, algae pools might be able to capture CO2 at less than $50 per ton according to Brilliant Planet. Its investors include Union Square Ventures (part of our early-stage VC panel) and Toyota Ventures, which co-led Brilliant Planet’s $12M Series A in April 2022.

Terraformation, founded by former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, aims to  reforest 3 billion acres of land with 1 trillion trees, potentially storing some 100 gigatons of CO2. Its full-stack approach includes seed banks, nursery kits, software, training, financing, and solar-powered desalination. Following a $30M Series A led by Sam and Max Altman at Apollo Projects, Terraformation now hopes to raise a $100M fund for reforestation in the developing world. 

Perhaps Twelve, co-founded by Chief Science Officer Dr. Etosha Cave, can address the financial pain of carbon capture by upcycling CO2 into petrochemicals—without using fossil fuels. Twelve’s electrochemical reactor replicates photosynthesis to make chemicals, materials, and fuels for customers like Mercedes-Benz, Procter & Gamble, Alaska Airlines, and the U.S. Air Force. Twelve has raised $200M to date with backers including DCVC, Capricorn Investment Group, Carbon Direct Capital, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, and Breakout Ventures.

The panel was moderated by Tim De Chant, Senior Climate Editor at TechCrunch, who has covered the carbon capture space extensively. 

Commercializing carbon capture has proven to be exceedingly difficult. What will it take to break through the cost and scalability barriers? 

Learn more about the Summit/

The Speakers

Dr. Lily Wachter photo

Dr. Lily Wachter

Dr. Lily Wachter is the CFO of Biomason. She has focused her career on carbon reduction and sustainable development and has spent the past decade leading finance teams at organizations that share these goals. Her experience prior to Biomason included CFO roles at Edeniq, a venture-backed biofuel technology company, and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. She holds a B.A. in earth and environmental science and a Ph.D. in sustainable development, both of which she received from Columbia University.

Miranda Wang photo

Miranda Wang

Miranda Wang is a venture-backed climate tech entrepreneur building the most innovative plastic transformation company. She is the Co-founder and CEO of Novoloop, a low-carbon advanced upcycling and sustainable materials provider that upgrades common plastic waste into performance materials. Miranda’s dream is to build healthy organizations that make our world a better place.

Joe Luttwak photo

Joe Luttwak

Joe Luttwak is the Founder and CEO of Lingrove. Trained as a product designer, he is a serial entrepreneur, with three successful ventures under his belt as well as extensive experience in product design and development at top-tier global product and manufacturing companies like Ferrari. He has invented a composite technology, Ekoa®, that can replace wood in almost any application with a high-performance, carbon-negative carbon fiber that has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel.

Alex Kopelyan photo

Alex Kopelyan

As Senior Director and Partner at IndieBio, Alex Kopelyan is responsible for managing all of the day-to-day operations associated with the program, demo day, and the alumni network. He works closely with teams during the program on customer discovery and sales, as well as with investors, press, and partners to build and sustain the IndieBio ecosystem. Alex comes from a clinical background having earned a PharmD from the University of Iowa.

Yishan Wong photo

Yishan Wong

Yishan Wong is bringing Silicon Valley’s expertise in scaling to the climate movement. Dedicated to restoring the planet’s forests to solve climate change, Yishan leads Terraformation to build and deploy tools to tackle the largest bottlenecks to mass-scale reforestation. Terraformation’s technology includes off-grid seed banks that process and store millions of seeds, tracking and monitoring platforms to enable project transparency, solar-powered desalination, and more.

Etosha Cave photo

Dr. Etosha Cave

Dr. Etosha Cave is co-founder and CSO of Twelve, a new kind of chemical company built for the climate era that is making everyday products from air, not oil. Etosha is an Accel Innovation Scholar, an Echoing Green Fellow, and a Smithsonian Institution Innovator to Watch. Twelve was supported in their seed stage by Activate with an entrepreneurial fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and by Elemental Excelerator.

Time De Chant photo

Tim De Chant

Tim De Chant is a senior climate reporter at TechCrunch and the founder of Future Proof, a publication covering climate and energy. He is also a lecturer in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing and has written for Wired magazine, The Wire China, the Chicago Tribune, and NOVA Next, among others. De Chant was awarded a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT in 2018, and he received his doctorate in environmental science, policy, and management from the University of California, Berkeley.