Congratulations to CarbonCure Technologies: a grand prize winner of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE!
In a world surrounded by concrete, some people — most notably, CarbonCure Technologies — saw an opportunity. An opportunity as it turns out that has led to a huge payoff, not only for the team but also for the advancement of carbon utilization technologies.
On April 19, winners of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE were announced during a live interview with WIRED magazine. CarbonCure, based in Dartmouth, NS, captured the US$7.5 million prize in the natural gas track, for their technology that embeds CO2 into concrete, making it stronger and cleaner. The winner of the coal track was CarbonBuilt, a team out of Los Angeles, CA, which makes a low-CO2 concrete replacement.
We were fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Jennifer Wagner, team lead and President of CarbonCure, to talk about this momentous accomplishment in their journey.
Q: What were the biggest highlights of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE journey (outside of winning)?
A: For us, the win represents another external validation of our technology; it reinforces the massive potential environmental and economic impact that the technology could have on one of the world’s largest sectors.
We didn’t initially think that we’d have a chance of winning; we had to pivot multiple times to design a demonstration that would give us a great chance of winning – to be honest there were some days where we felt like quitting. But we didn’t take no for an answer – we went back to the drawing board and started to think creatively about how we could increase our chances of winning the competition. We didn’t just think outside the box – we stood on top of the box to reach for the stars. With some creativity, dedication and teamwork, we proved to ourselves that, together, we can overcome any challenge and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
The Carbon XPRIZE competition forced us to push the envelope on what is possible – we demonstrated two technologies as part of the competition – both are scalable retrofit solutions to help the concrete industry to decarbonize.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
A: The team had to overcome some major challenges due to COVID. With travel restrictions and harsh winter conditions in Calgary, we had to limit the number of staff on the demo site and contend with freezing equipment and hazardous cold temperatures. There were moments when we wanted to quit. But we persevered and didn’t take no for an answer. Fortunately, all that hard work has paid off!
What we ended up demonstrating was a lot different than what we had mapped out at the beginning of the competition. The competition forced us to accelerate our timelines, to think creatively, and to tackle some incredible challenges. Innovation is one of our company’s core values and the Carbon XPRIZE competition has been a great opportunity for the team to really think outside of the box and push the envelope on what is possible.
We’ve definitely made mistakes along the way, but what makes for a great entrepreneurial team is whether they can learn from those mistakes. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes, so they don’t make the same ones again. For us, the competition has been a continuous learning experience.
Q: What will this prize mean for the work CarbonCure is doing?
A: Winning the Carbon XPRIZE really helps accelerate our growth trajectory as we work towards our mission of reducing 500 million metric tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030.
For us, this means ramping up growth of our existing climate technologies, and also continuing to innovate to bring new technologies to market that permanently recycle CO2.
Climate and equity are intricately connected – the best climate solutions are the ones that are the most equitable – frontline communities often face social and environmental injustices and we want to do our part to address both climate change and social equity.
We’re exploring ideas for how we can leverage the prize funds to amplify our impact not only from a climate perspective, but how we can also contribute to some of the social equity causes that our team is passionate about.
Q: What do you think the future of carbon technology looks like?
A: I envision a future where we’ve created a fully circular economy, where we’ve not only reduced the amount of CO2 emissions that we produce, but any remaining CO2 emissions are used to create valuable products.
We’re already seeing signs of momentum as the world transitions to net zero. There’s been an influx of net zero commitments by governments and corporations around the world. To satisfy these net zero commitments, there’s been an increased demand for carbon credits.
Driving up demand for high-quality carbon credits will help scale up technologies which create these credits, and help draw more companies into the space; this is an important signal to create a steady stream of demand so these solutions can scale as quickly as possible.
There will also be an increasing market demand from end users for products with a lower carbon footprint. Private sector specifications create demand for low carbon concrete, and concrete made with CO2 has already been used in a range of construction projects. We’ve poured more than one million truckloads to construction projects, which is equivalent to building a road halfway around the world.
These advancements also provide us with policy levers. There are several good examples of policy frameworks in the U.S., which uses procurement tools to increase demand in the market for materials like low carbon concrete. All of these factors are helping to accelerate adoption of our technology by concrete producers; in fact, we just closed the biggest quarter in company history.
Q: What’s next for CarbonCure?
A: CarbonCure’s vision is to ensure that concrete decarbonization and profitability are not mutually exclusive. We’ve shown that it is possible to develop business-friendly solutions, which can help mitigate climate change, while also creating new business opportunities.
The whole purpose of the Carbon XPRIZE was to demonstrate that CO2 can be a valuable feedstock and be used as a building block for a wide variety of products that we use every day.
For us, we’re extremely proud to be among the family of previous XPRIZE winners, who have cracked tough engineering challenges to tackle some of the world’s most pressing societal issues.
Carbon conversion presents a massive opportunity – both from a climate and economic standpoint.
Climate change is a massive threat to life as we know it, but we need to remember that the solutions are available today, we just need to scale them fast enough before it’s too late.
I’m a “glass half full” kind of person, so I’m optimistic about the future, and we feel that, collectively, we’ve got the right people and technologies to tackle climate change.
What keeps me up at night is whether we can do it fast enough.
COSIA’s involvement in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE was orchestrated through a joint industry project led by ConocoPhillips. Other participating members are Canadian Natural, Cenovus, Imperial, Suncor and non-COSIA member CNOOC. Together, we would like to, once again, congratulate CarbonCure, CarbonBuilt and all of the teams who participated in this journey on their efforts to advance carbon utilization technologies. Together, we are transforming the future.