Beyond the gigaton silver bullet

Some of the biggest climate benefits can come from thinking small.

Carbontech is about building a new industrial sector as much as it is about individual products.

At the same time, we can’t be blind to the realities of commercialization, which often benefit from a high-value first market. Carbontech products span at least five orders of magnitude in value, with aggregates and concrete valued on the order of $10 per ton and nutraceuticals like astaxanthin valued at $1,000,000 per ton. If a carbontech process can yield a series of products of descending value but increasing scale and market size, then that process has a stepwise path to market. The largest-volume carbontech products are simply not the highest value, so they’re probably not the best ones to start with from a commercialization perspective.

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A plot of the top 18 global chemicals. The x-axis shows their production volume increasing from left to right, and IEA’s projections for avoided greenhouse gas emissions are on the y-axis. Ethylene, the highest-volume carbon-containing chemical on the chart, has a CO utilization potential of 378 million tons per year. Image: International Energy Agency ‘Technology Roadmap’

The big perks of thinking small

Carbontech is about building a new industrial sector as much as it is about individual products. By looking beyond illusive gigaton silver bullets and starting to think small, we make possible a host of social and economic co-benefits that will be essential for developing the commercial ecosystem that carbontech startups will need to thrive.

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