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    About this Episode

    Cutting emissions alone will not be enough. To avoid the worst effects of global climate change, Heirloom CEO and co-founder Shashank Samala believes we’ll also need to pull a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere...

    This week on How I Built This Lab, Shashank’s leap into climate entrepreneurship, launching the company that, in just four years, built North America’s first operational carbon capture facility. Plus, Heirloom’s novel approach to carbon removal—one tray of limestone at a time.

    This episode was produced by Casey Herman with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by John Isabella with research help from Carla Esteves. Our audio engineer was Neal Rauch.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Combating climate change requires not only reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but also actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon capture technology offers a scalable and impactful solution for this challenge.
    • Heirloom's technology offers a low-cost and scalable solution for carbon removal by enhancing natural processes, emphasizing the importance of innovation in addressing climate challenges.
    • Small individual efforts can collectively lead to significant carbon reduction. Limestone offers a cost-effective solution for carbon capture by converting it into calcium oxide and stacking it to create an efficient carbon capture structure.
    • Corporations are increasingly willing to pay for carbon removals, creating a potential global market. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the goal is to make carbon removal more affordable and accessible at around $100 per ton.
    • Heirloom's modular system successfully captures and permanently stores CO2, with plans to expand its capacity and collaborate with compliance markets to achieve global net zero emissions.
    • Carbon capture facilities are small in size, with some being as tall as 130 feet. They require minimal land, strategically chosen for factors like cheap renewable energy, and aim to be low-cost and easily replicable worldwide.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The importance of carbon capture in combating climate change.

    To effectively combat global climate change, reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone is not enough. We also need to focus on removing CO2 that has already been released into the atmosphere. Direct carbon capture technology, like the method used by Heirloom's facility in California, offers a fast, inexpensive, and scalable solution for this challenge. By removing billions of tons of CO2 per year, this technology has the potential to make a meaningful impact on carbon levels worldwide. It is crucial to decarbonize every part of the economy, from electricity generation to transportation, in order to achieve a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions.

    Innovation and nature-based solutions for scalable carbon removal.

    Carbon removal is essential for complementing the slow decarbonization of sectors like agriculture and aviation. Shashank Samala, the CEO of Heirloom, approached the problem of carbon capture from a cost and scalability perspective. While existing methods involved building novel materials, the cost of production was a major obstacle. Instead, Heirloom looked to enhance nature and borrow from natural processes to solve the problem. By taking CO2 from the air, Heirloom's technology aims to reverse the effects of fossil fuel burning. This approach offers a low-cost and massively scalable solution compared to traditional methods. It highlights the importance of innovation and exploring different perspectives in addressing climate challenges effectively.

    Global Decarbonization and Carbon Removal

    Decarbonization and carbon removal need to be done on a global scale in order to make a significant impact. While individual efforts may seem small, collectively they can amount to billions of tons of carbon reduction. The three main contributors to carbon emissions are cement, steel, and fossil fuels, which are produced in massive quantities. To effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere, a cost-effective and abundant solution is needed. Limestone, a readily available and inexpensive material, can act as a sponge for carbon dioxide. By heating limestone and converting it into calcium oxide, its carbon-removal properties are enhanced. Thin layers of lime are then stacked on trays to create a tall baking rack-like structure for efficient carbon capture.

    The Growing Demand for Carbon Removals and its Potential Market

    The demand for carbon removals is growing rapidly, driven by corporations with net zero targets and compliance requirements. Companies like Microsoft and Stripe Meta are willing to pay for carbon removals to reduce their emissions and reach their sustainability goals. While currently voluntary, there is a potential for compliance markets to emerge on a global scale, creating even more opportunities for carbon removal businesses. The potential market for carbon removal is significant, with a projected need to remove five to ten billion tons of CO2 from the air to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. To achieve this, the goal is to reduce the cost of carbon removal to around $100 per ton, making it more affordable and accessible for society.

    Innovative Carbon Capture Technology for a Sustainable Future

    Heirloom, the Direct Carbon Capture Company, is focused on making carbon removal accessible and impactful. They have built the first commercial facility in North America that captures and stores CO2 from the air. Their modular system has a capture capacity of 1000 tons a year, and they plan to increase that by 10x next year. The captured CO2 is compressed into a liquid and stored in concrete, which has the ability to sequester CO2 permanently. Heirloom is relying on the voluntary carbon market, with large contracts like Microsoft, to generate revenue. However, they emphasize the need for compliance markets and policy support to achieve global net zero. Their ultimate goal is to build a thousand facilities, reaching a billion tons of carbon capture per year in the next 10-15 years.

    Compact and Efficient Carbon Capture Facilities

    Carbon capture facilities are incredibly land efficient, requiring much less space compared to other industries. To remove a billion tons of CO2, only a few sites the size of Disney World are needed. These facilities are relatively compact, with the tallest one being around 130 feet tall. Additionally, the next facility to be built will be smaller than a golf course or a cement facility. The location of these facilities is strategically chosen based on factors such as cheap renewable energy, excess geothermal energy, and available land. With the goal of reaching a million tons of CO2 removal per year, these facilities aim to be incredibly low cost, highly efficient, and easily replicable across the world.

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