SkyNano Startup To Convert CO2 Into Solid Carbon: Part 2 – Markets And Climate Solution.
Originally published on Forbes.com on August 18, 2022
The potential of this process is estimated to be about 2.5% of present global greenhouse gas emissions, or 10% of remaining emissions expected after 1050.
Below is Part 2 of an interview with Anna Douglas, CEO of SkyNano, which is aimed at general markets and climate solutions for capturing and removing CO2.
Here is Part 1 was keyed to the new technology and funding of the startup company.
The advantage of your process is that it creates solid carbon nanotubes which have useful properties for practical applications. Can you talk about the potential market for your carbon nanotubes?
Carbon nanotubes have enormous market potential! These super-materials are 10x the strength of steel at 1/6 the weight, have electrical properties that rival copper, and have thermal properties that rival diamond. The market applications are nearly endless.
That said, the most immediate market applications we see for our carbon nanotubes are in augmenting or replacing other low-value carbon additives, like carbon black. Carbon black is used in a lot of consumer applications right now such as tires, batteries, and coatings. Carbon nanotubes would enable performance improvements of all of these devices, and with SkyNano’s technology, this is accomplished at cost parity.
Beyond some drop-in replacements such as tire and battery additives, there is an exciting new frontier of applications of our carbon nanotubes in markets that are not currently served by the carbon black market. For example, building materials today don’t make up a meaningful portion of the carbon black market, and we are partnering with Endeavor Composites and the University of Tennessee to develop carbon-negative building materials using our CO2-derived carbon nanotubes.
Another example is in cementing products, where carbon nanotubes have incredible potential as strengthening materials that help to mitigate crack propagation.
How far out is your timeline for marketing the carbon nanotubes that you make?
We actually are selling carbon nanotubes we make today, in research quantities, to early customers who have been engaged with us for a while with interest in our technology and product offering. Currently, we are selling the full capacity of what we can produce, but as we scale up our operations, we are excited to serve new customers and new industries.
We are likely 2-3 years out from producing carbon nanotubes at scales that would warrant a full-time sales team, but in the interim, we are engaging with customers and product development teams across a range of end-use applications to help demonstrate early test bed cases for our carbon nanotubes.
In addition, we are working to develop new market opportunities where carbon nanotubes are not currently used, to open new market opportunities to be available when our capacity for carbon nanotube production ramps up.
Who do you foresee as likely industrial buyers of your process to remove CO2, compared with an oil and gas industry that would be the main purveyors of standard CCS (companies like ExxonMobil and Occidental who have made big commitments to CCS).
I actually think we will see a rather fast shift away from CCS (carbon capture with underground storage) entirely and towards CCU (carbon capture with nanotube utilization), even from big industrial companies that have made commitments to CCS. As more utilization technologies are developed to higher technology readiness levels, the economic case for CCS instead of CCU becomes harder and harder to make. Furthermore, CCS via underground storage sites has practical growth limitations, and CCU is, in theory, technically unlimited in the volume of products that can be made from CO2.
Right now, some of the companies we see the most market pull from include companies that have regular CO2 emissions as part of their operations that are considered hard to abate due to the chemical emissions nature of their CO2, who also have a potential use case for carbon nanotubes. These include industries like chemical plants and cement production, where SkyNano’s process could help address two challenges: 1) decarbonization, and 2) improving their existing products with advanced material additives.
Carbon nanotubes is right now a small market. How could this really make an impact on climate change?
Today’s carbon nanotube market is in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and even replacing the entire carbon nanotube market today would be unlikely to make a meaningful impact on climate change. However, at SkyNano we have calculated a carbon removal potential, which is on the order of 1 Gigaton/year (1GT/year) and indeed is very significant. This is primarily based on the combination of a few things: direct carbon removal (point source or direct air capture) + offsetting emissions-intensive materials + performance improvements of devices that saves fuel + new markets enabled by our technology + voluntary carbon removal markets.
Using this concept, SkyNano’s process has the potential for at least a 20 Megaton/year (MT/year) impact in terms of direct emissions removed, based on the current total market size of carbon black (estimated 13.8 MT/year based on market report sources, ~60% carbon mass reduction when switching to CNTs due to increased performance). This would also, of course, be offsetting the significant CO2 emissions associated with carbon black production, which we estimate adds another 82MT/year.
Additionally, the improved performance of CNTs (carbon nanotubes) as an enabling technology for faster deployment of lightweight composites, faster-charging batteries, etc. has an estimated CO2 savings of 500 MT/year based in part on data from a retired NASA scientist who serves as a mentor for us. He told us that if all of our cars and airplanes were made from carbon fiber parts, the US alone would save over 6 million barrels of oil/per day. Altogether, we get to ~600 MT/year based on today’s markets.
Beyond this, we estimate the demand for CO2-derived CNTs will grow significantly and enable new markets where carbon isn’t currently used at all (for example, building material composites), which will add significantly to the total carbon impact, though this isn’t easily estimated at this time, so isn’t included in our carbon removal potential.
There is additional carbon removal potential that comes from the cost modeling of a scaled CO2 conversion plant (CO2 to CNT). Depending on the future market trading values of voluntary carbon removal credits (which are today a very nascent market), another 400 MT/year could come from converting CO2 into solid carbon powder materials that could even be used for extremely low-value markets such as soil additives (biochar alternatives). This additional 400 MT/year would add to the previously estimated 600 MT/year to give 1 GT/year of carbon removal potential associated with the SkyNano process. And 1 Gt/year is about 2.5% of present global greenhouse gas emissions or 10% of 10 GT/year remaining global emissions expected after 1050.