New Direct Air Capture Startup Holocene Licenses A Breakthrough Technology

New Direct Air Capture Startup Holocene Licenses A Breakthrough Technology - Carbon Herald

New innovative direct air capture technology startup is proposing a new approach to removing CO2 directly from air. Holocene was founded in 2022 by chemical engineer Anca Timofte – also a former employee in Climeworks. 

It is based in Knoxville, Tennessee and develops a new chemical process that captures CO2. The process uses an aqueous solution containing ORNL-discovered receptors called Bis-iminoguanidine, or BIGs that absorb CO2. BIGs turn into insoluble crystalline salt, which is easily separated from the liquid solution. The process is innovative and has recently been licensed by the company. It is also said to be energy-efficient.

Relevant: Santos To Explore Cheap Direct Air Capture For Green Methane Production

It was discovered by Radu Custelcean, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the Chemical Sciences Division. Mr. Custelcean and his research team stumbled on it by chance while conducting fundamental crystallization experiments. The resulting BIGs Negative Emission Technology also received an R&D 100 Award in 2021.

Anca Timofte found out about Custelcean’s publications covering the innovative carbon capture approach and saw how his chemistry could address the major hurdles of the two established direct air capture processes.

She founded Holocene and now continues to work on the technology in a lab. The startup is also working to take it to the next step and commercialize the approach. Holocene is currently part of the Innovation Crossroads, a DOE Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program where it is developing its business plan. 

“When you’re in the position of starting a new company, having a group of mentors like the ones at Innovation Crossroads and the ability to work with ORNL is very appealing… I was happy to get into the program. It helps with the normal challenges that all startups have, but also very importantly, it connects us with the local ecosystem in Knoxville and gives us access to the scientists who developed the chemistry. We can work together and transfer knowledge — we can learn more about how the licensed technology works, work on features, troubleshoot issues, de-risk and optimize the chemistry. It’s a nice continuation of the collaboration,” commented Timofte in a publication by ORNL. 

Relevant: “Direct Air Capture Is Going To Be As Big As The Energy Industry” – Adrian Corless, CEO of CarbonCapture Inc.

Timofte also participated in the Breakthrough Energy Fellow program launched by Breakthrough Energy, focused on accelerating innovation in sustainable energy. It is now part of the Spark Incubator Program – an entrepreneurial support program at the University of Tennessee Research Park’s Spark Innovation Center.

The next phase for the startup is to conduct bench-scale testing funded by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management to scale the direct air capture technology. It will work for two years with Custelcean and ORNL, according to a cooperative research and development agreement part of the Innovation Crossroads program. 

The partnership will help Holocene learn more about the science behind the technology, troubleshoot issues in testing and scale-up, and connect with mentors in the climate tech ecosystem that can support the new company. The startup is also growing its team, looking for talent in business, chemical, mechanical and general engineering.

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