Last week New York-based Cella Mineral Storage announced it has secured $3.3 million of seed funding in a round led by carbon removal investment company Counteract and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
Led by co-founders Dr. Claire Nelson, who acts as CTO, and CEO Corey Pattison, the company is on an ambitious path of making CO2 mineralization work at scale.
The pair created Cella in 2022, looking to combine their scientific and economic backgrounds. Geochemist Dr. Nelson is an M.S. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University, currently doing postdoctoral research at Columbia University, while Yale graduate Pattison brings his experience in leading climate and sustainability projects for the World Bank and United Nations.
Cella’s technology accelerates the natural geologic process of CO2 mineralization by injecting captured CO2 from the atmosphere deep underground into highly reactive basalt rocks, where it turns into a solid form.
The company has already sold some advance purchases of carbon removal to the Frontier initiative (the first commitments of this kind in the Global South) and together with the fresh funding this will allow the startup to expand its team and launch its first pilot project.
“We bootstrapped until now, so we didn’t raise a pre-seed [round]. For a first raise it has a pretty significant size,” says Corey Pattison about the capital coming into the company.
“I think our investors felt really good about investing because we’ve rounded up a scientific advisory board that comprises all of the world’s leading experts on this topic,” adds Dr. Nelson.
The advisory board is indeed a who’s who in the fields of geophysics and geochemistry and includes Dr. David Goldberg, Dr. Eric Oelkers, Dr. Peter MgGrail, as well as Dr. Lydia Olaka, who has extensive knowledge of hydrology and geochemistry in Kenya.
To test the merits of its approach Cella’s next step will be the construction of a pilot plant in Kenya’s Rift Valley, an active geologic area where tectonic plates are moving apart.
The presence of suitable basaltic rocks was one of the reasons for choosing the location but there are a number of other favorable conditions that prompted Cella’s decision to set up shop there.
“There’s just massive potential. The estimated overall storage potential in the Kenyan Rift Valley is 400 billion tons [of CO2]. There is an electricity grid that is already 92% powered by renewables and about half of that is geothermal. The president’s office quotes 100 gigawatts of geothermal potential, so they’ve barely scratched the surface on that,” explains the CEO.
Renewable geothermal energy is one of the key components of net carbon removal, as all current technologies require large amounts of energy to capture, transport and store CO2. The potential growth of direct air capture and carbon storage in the country could also provide strong co-benefits to Kenya, by ensuring there is demand for any surplus energy that has been driving prices up and stifling investment into new capacity.
The pilot plant is set to become operational by the third quarter of 2024 and will provide valuable information about the technology in a real-world setting with data about costs, efficiency and subsurface testing becoming available.
Another important aspect of Cella’s technology is its flexibility in terms of application. This could provide ways not only for removing CO2 from the atmosphere but also reducing the impact of emissions from heavy industry.
“We wanted a technology that can both be relevant in an ideal world when we’re removing 10 gigatons of CO2 per year, but also meet the needs of the world today. There are a lot of emission sources that probably have a lifetime of a couple of decades and we want a storage technology that can work with both CDR and DAC, as well as point source capture from industrial emitters,” says Claire Nelson.
It’s these growth opportunities and the potential to scale that make Cella Mineral Storage a unique project in the burgeoning carbon removal space. Having a broader scope and multiple targets usually brings in more challenges and hurdles, which is probably why there aren’t that many companies working on geologic carbon sequestration. But the Cella team is focused on the right things.
“We approach this problem with a view to scale from the very beginning. My perspective on climate is that the only thing that fundamentally really matters is that it’s effective. If it’s not at scale, it’s not going to be meaningful,” says Corey Pattison.