Carbon capture company founded by UBC geologists wins $1M international funding prize

·3 min read
Tailings from the Clinton Creek mine in the Yukon, containing carbon dioxide. Since 2000, Carbin Minerals Inc. co-founder Greg Dipple began studying a natural process whereby rocks from under the earth's crust react with carbon dioxide by mineralizing it, and thus pulling it from the atmosphere. (Greg Dipple - image credit)
Tailings from the Clinton Creek mine in the Yukon, containing carbon dioxide. Since 2000, Carbin Minerals Inc. co-founder Greg Dipple began studying a natural process whereby rocks from under the earth's crust react with carbon dioxide by mineralizing it, and thus pulling it from the atmosphere. (Greg Dipple - image credit)

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A small company incorporated by geologists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver got a big boost on Earth Day for their discoveries which speed the ability for rocks to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carbin Minerals Inc., founded by Greg Dipple, Bethany Ladd and Peter Scheuermann, just this past September, earned $1 million US from a U.S. organization that has the backing of the Elon Musk Foundation.

XPRIZE awards millions of dollars to fund breakthroughs in technology and ingenuity that help solve some of the world's most pressing problems, most notably climate change.

Since 2000, Dipple, who has been a geology professor at UBC for 30 years, began studying a natural process whereby rocks from under the earth's crust react with carbon dioxide when unearthed by mineralizing it, and thus pulling it from the atmosphere.

Bethany Ladd
Bethany Ladd

The process, called weathering, can however take thousands of years. Dipple and his colleagues sought to find ways to expedite the process, especially at mining sites, so that massive fields of mine tailings, essentially pulverized rocks, could become huge carbon sinks.

"What we're doing with Carbin Minerals Inc. is understanding that those reaction rates are relatively slow, we have techniques that allow us to increase those rates by a factor of three or five so we get single sites doing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 per year," he said.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured last summer at 50 per cent higher than when the industrial age began, is a driver of climate change.

By monitoring mining sites, technicians can adjust the amount of water in tailing sites or simply stir up the bed of rocks to increase the pace of carbonization, in some cases, down to days.

After incorporating, the company scrambled to apply to XPRIZE for its $100 million carbon removal competition.

Bethany Ladd
Bethany Ladd

Entrants must prove that the technology actually works and "achieves net negative emissions, sequesters carbon dioxide durably over at least 100 years, and shows a sustainable path to ultimately achieving gigatonne scale," according to a release naming the winners.

'Huge for us as a company'

Dipple said being named as one of 15 winners out of an initial 1,133 entrants, all judged by a panel of 70 experts and scientists from across the globe, is a valuable endorsement for Carbin Minerals Inc. and its future.

"It's huge for us as a company," he said. "It allows us to really accelerate our R&D and technology development and also the deployment of it. We're working hard right now to place this technology out in the field and start working."

The XPRIZE money will help the company set up its first pilot, hire new employees beyond its current team of five, purchase equipment and start fulfilling carbon removal contracts.

It also stands to earn a further $50 million from XPRIZE as part of an ongoing carbon removal competition.

The company recently signed its first contract with Ottawa-based Shopify to remove 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of the company's corporate social responsibility plan.

More XPRIZE money for UBC

Also announced on Friday from XPRIZE was a further $1 million US for another UBC spinoff company, Takachar, which won the student version of the competition last year and will receive an additional $1 million this year.

The company has been recognized for its invention dubbed the "MiniTorr," which is an inexpensive and portable machine that uses a thermochemical process to transform biomass, such as crop by-products, into bio-products, like fuel and fertilizer, rather than be burned.

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