Heirloom Carbon (Heirloom) uses Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology to capture carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere using limestone and store CO₂ safely and permanently. By 2035, Heirloom aims to remove 1 billion tons of CO₂. The company also sells carbon credits to allow companies to offset their own CO₂ emissions.
Challenges: Carbon emissions and Direct Air Capture
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Since the early 1900s, carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels in the atmosphere have increased by 50% due to human activities. When fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and natural gas) are burned for energy production, transportation, and industrial processes, CO₂ is released into the atmosphere. This excess CO₂ acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat and causing the air and ocean temperatures to rise. CO₂ emissions play a crucial role in driving climate change.
This warming effect has caused the global average temperature to rise by about 1.1 ºC since the pre-industrial period. This has led to rising in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, melting of polar ice caps and glaciers and rising sea levels, shifts in species ranges and increased risk of species extinction, agriculture and food security, and ocean acidification.
To mitigate these impacts, the Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 ºC above pre-industrial levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a “carbon budget” of about 500 GtCO₂, which corresponds to about ten years at current emission rates, provides a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 ºC.
Direct Air Capture
Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a technology that uses chemical or physical processes to extract CO₂ directly from the atmosphere. DAC technology includes two main types of systems: liquid solvent systems and solid sorbent systems. Liquid solvent systems use a chemical solution to absorb CO₂ from the air, whereas solid sorbent systems use a solid material. The extracted CO₂ can be stored in deep geological formations, achieving CO₂ removal.
DAC technology is considered a feasible option for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and it is expected to capture nearly 60 Mt CO₂/year by 2030.
DAC technology offers several benefits, including reducing atmospheric CO₂, being space-efficient, and having a smaller land footprint compared to other carbon capture technologies.
DAC is also location-flexible, meaning it can be built in any location that has low-carbon energy and CO₂ storage. DAC plants can be constructed on non-arable land, which does not add further pressure on land use. DAC and storage plants offer an affordable solution for removing CO₂ from the air at megaton-scale.
However, DAC is more costly per ton of CO₂ (tCO₂⁻¹) removed than many mitigation approaches and natural climate solutions, as separating dilute CO₂ from ambient air is an energy-intensive process. Currently, DAC technologies have been demonstrated on the industrial and pilot scales, with reported net CO₂ removal costs between $500 and 600 tCO₂⁻¹.
DAC system costs could be lowered significantly with commercialization in the 2020s followed by massive implementation in the 2040s and 2050s. Cost of DAC deployment affects climate outcomes, and low-cost DAC decreases the amount of total energy used, which can reduce the deployment costs and improve climate outcomes.
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Direct air capture companies
Several companies are developing DAC technology, including Carbon Engineering and Climeworks.
Carbon Engineering DAC technology is an engineered mechanical system that uses a combination of fans, filters, and chemical reactions to extract CO₂ from the air. The captured CO₂ is then compressed and stored underground or reused. Carbon Engineering’s DAC technology can be built to capture millions of tons of CO₂ per year, and individual DAC facilities can be built to capture one million tons of CO₂ per year. Carbon Engineering has received investments from several energy companies, including Chevron Corporation, Occidental Petroleum, and BHP.
Climeworks specializes in DAC technology that uses a solid sorbent to extract CO₂ from the air. The company’s DAC plants consist of several modular units that contain sorbent material. The captured CO₂ is then released through a regeneration process, and the sorbent material is reused. Climeworks has developed several DAC plants worldwide and is working to scale up its technology to capture millions of tons of CO₂ per year. The company is also exploring the potential of using the captured CO₂ for various applications, such as producing carbon-neutral fuels and materials.
Heirloom Carbon Technology
Heirloom uses limestone (CaCO₃) instead of synthetic sorbents to capture CO₂ from the air and store it safely and permanently. Limestone is heated in renewable-energy powered calciners to remove CO₂ and produce Ca(OH)₂ sorbents from the hydration of CaO powders. Ca(OH)₂ sorbents are placed on vertically stacked trays, and algorithms are used to optimize their capacity to absorb CO₂ in different environmental conditions. Heirloom’s DAC technology accelerates the natural property of limestone, reducing the time it takes to absorb CO₂ from years to just three days. The company claims that its technology has the lowest peer-reviewed, at-scale cost of any direct air capture technology on the market.
Heirloom Carbon Direct Air Capture technology
The diagram below depicts the system of Heirloom DAC technology.
The overall system comprises a feedstock source, a grinding system, carbonization plots, a conveyor system, calciners, and a CO₂ post-processing system.
- Feedstock source
Heirloom uses limestone (CaCO₃) feedstock. The feedstock is processed in a grinding system and heated in renewable electricity-powered calciners to produce CaO powders which are hydrated to form Ca(OH)₂ to capture CO₂ from the air.
Global limestone resources stand at 90 trillion metric tons. Limestone is a sedimentary rock that is primarily composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO₃) and is commonly used in the construction industry as a building material and as a raw material for cement production. The largest reserves of limestone are found in China, followed by the United States, India, and Russia.
- Grinding system
The grinding system grinds the limestone to a desired average particle size about 20 μm. Small particles of limestone have a large surface area exposed to the air, allowing for more efficient CO₂ capture. The operation of the grinding system emits CO₂, which is collected by the CO₂ post-processing system.
- Carbonization plots
Carbonation plots contain limestone or Ca(OH)₂ particles. These particles are laid out as a thin layer onto a large area tray. The layer is about 10 cm thick. The carbonation plots are arranged so that Ca(OH)₂ particles can capture CO₂ directly from the air.
Carbonation plots are stacked vertically and are clustered into a group. The clustered carbonation plots enable modular operation of the overall system. The overall system includes a sufficient number of carbonation plots to hold a sufficient amount of the Ca(OH)₂ to sequester a desired amount of CO₂.
Renewable-electricity powered calciners heat CaCO₃ at around 900 ºC for a duration between 30 minutes and 2 hours to replenish CaO from CaCO₃, which is then returned to carbonation plots. The CO₂ evolved from the calciners is collected by the CO₂ post-processing system.
- Conveyor system
The conveyor system transports CaCO₃-rich carbonation plots to calciners and returns Ca(OH)₂-rich composition to carbonation plots.
- CO₂ post-processing system
The CO₂ post-processing system collects CO₂ streams from the grinding system and calciners. CO₂ can be stored underground or used to make “net zero” carbon products, such as CO₂-added concrete and air-to-fuels.
How does Heirloom Direct Air Capture technology work?
Heirloom DAC technology involves two essential steps.
In the initial step, CaCO₃ powders in the carbonation plots are sent into a 900 ºC calciner which is powered by renewable electricity. In the calciner the CaCO₃ decomposes into calcium oxide (CaO) and CO₂ at high temperature for less than 2 hours, as depicted in the diagram below. A high-purity stream of CO₂ directly from the calciners is captured by the CO₂ post-processing system.
In the second step, CaO is hydrated to form Ca(OH)₂. The exothermic nature of the hydration reaction affords an opportunity for heat recovery. Ca(OH)₂ is used as the sorbent in the CO₂ capture to reform the CaCO₃, as shown in the diagram below. A 10 cm thick layer carbonates to 85% in less than 3 days. The consistent fast rate attained by the Heirloom process corresponds to 630 g CO₂ removed per 1 m² of exposed carbonation area every 2.5 days.
Once the material is saturated with captured CO₂, it is sent back to the calciners and decomposed once more to form CaO and CO₂. The process continues cyclically.
After repeated calcination, the pores in the particles of the composition begin to clog, deactivating sorbents. Studies have demonstrated that the reaction capacity of CaO diminishes by greater than half the original capacity after 45 cycles. A grinding process is used to periodically produce new sorbents.
The cost of CO₂ net removed
Using current costs of grid and solar electricity ($0.06 kWh⁻¹), Heirloom has estimated that the cost of CO₂ net removed ranges from $46 – $159 tCO₂⁻¹, while the cost of CO2 produced ranges from $29 – $79 tCO₂⁻¹. Using future cost projections for solar electricity ($0.03 kWh⁻¹) yields $43 – $149 tCO₂⁻¹ net removed and $25 – $77 tCO₂⁻¹ produced. Currently, DAC technologies have been demonstrated on industrial and pilot scales with costs of CO₂ net removed reported between $500 and $600 tCO₂⁻¹.
Heirloom Carbon Patent
- US20220347650A1 Systems and methods for enhanced weathering and calcining for CO2 removal from air
Heirloom Carbon Products
The market for Direct Air Capture technology is growing rapidly, and it is expected to reach $6.86 billion by 2029 with a CAGR ( Compound Annual Growth Rate).
Heirloom has conducted many tests and prototypes to validate its direct air capture technology, and it has raised $53 million in a Series A funding round. The company has a facility in Brisbane, California that captures CO₂ from the atmosphere which is then embedded permanently in concrete.
The company also sells carbon credits to allow companies to offset their own CO₂ emissions, and its buyers include Microsoft, Stripe, Shopify, and Klarna. Heirloom’s carbon removal credits will cost less than $100 per ton of CO₂ by 2035.
Heirloom Carbon Funding
Heirloom has raised a total of $54.3M in funding over 5 rounds, including
Their latest funding was raised on Apr 22, 2022 from a Grant round.
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Heirloom Carbon Investors
Heirloom is funded by 16 investors, including
- Breakthrough Energy Ventures
- Lowercarbon Capital
- Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund
- National Science Foundation
- Breyer Capital
- Prelude Ventures
- Seven Seven Six
- Yes VC
- Time Ventures
- Ahren Innovation Capital
- Musk Foundation
- Carbon Direct
- Grantham Environmental Trust
- Carbon Removal Partners
Heirloom Carbon Founder
Heirloom Carbon CEO
Shashank Samala is CEO.
Heirloom Carbon Board Member and Advisor
Alice Newcombe-Ellis is Board Member.