What do NASA, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan have in common?

By Matt Lucas and Rory Jacobson


In the past two months, these three academic giants have launched research and development programs for carbontech. While each has their own interest and motivation, carbontech innovators should take note.

Most recently, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy launched a major new research initiative to study the policy, financial, and economic aspects of carbon management. The program “strengthens Columbia’s academic leadership in the field of carbon dioxide management” and connects the University’s existing work on carbontech across departments. The program aims to do this by working to create new business models, drive new investment vehicles for public and private capital, and shape new policies around carbontech. Our own Carbontech Labs focuses on these same capital structures to bring carbontech to market, so we’re thrilled to see Carbon180’s Advisory Board member Dr. Julio Friedmann leading this top-tier interdisciplinary program.

While the program does not offer direct business support, the research, business models, and investment vehicles likely to come out of this project are unequivocally excellent news for carbontech entrepreneurs everywhere.

The University of Michigan’s Global CO2 Initiative intends to “transform CO2 into commercially successful products using a system-level process of technology assessment, technology development and commercialization” Pretty ambitious, huh? Within weeks of launching, the initiative published a comparative report on Life Cycle Assessment and Techno-Economic Assessment (LCA/TEA) guidelines, providing entrepreneurs and researchers alike with an invaluable tool to quantify the climate impact of carbontech products.

Entrepreneurs love high-value beachhead markets, and Mars — with its CO2-laden atmosphere — is about as extreme as they come. NASA’s $1M CO2 Conversion Challenge seeks methods that “both effectively recycle supplies brought from Earth and use local resources such as CO2, water and regolith to manufacture mission-relevant products.” They specifically call out drinking water treatment, recovery of oxygen from CO2, as well as glucose and food production. The two-phase program offers a $250K prize for the concept phase and an additional $750K prize for a second demonstration challenge phase. The Challenge’s rigorous rubric will evaluate submissions on technical merit, feasibility, applicability to space missions, as well as system fabrication and test plans.

With carbontech at an early stage of development, we’re excited to see such prestigious R&D institutions leaning into carbontech. Their diverse motivations — climate mitigation, business opportunities, and space exploration — point to the broad and untapped potential of carbontech.

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