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Carbon Upcycling nets $6.15M to usurp CarbonCure

Apr 21, 2022
Illustration of a net catching carbon dioxide molecules with shapes and money.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a Calgary, Alberta-based cement and concrete startup, raised $6.15 million in seed financing.

Why it matters: Investors are tripping over themselves to back startups that claim to decarbonize cement and concrete, two of the largest emissions sources globally. But the tech hasn't always met expectations, and many companies instead rely on clever math to stand up their lofty claims.

Driving the news: Clean Energy Ventures led the round with participation from Cemex Ventures, a strategic investor that could become a Carbon Upcycling customer down the road.

  • This is the company's first outside funding round. Apoorv Sinha, its CEO, has bootstrapped the company since its initial proof-of-concept in October 2014.

State of play: The conversation around carbon-neutral cement and concrete has been largely dominated by CarbonCure, a Canadian startup that is working with Amazon to supply concrete to its construction contractors for new building projects.

  • CarbonCure's technology injects carbon dioxide into concrete at production plants, relying on a chemical reaction to sequester the carbon dioxide before the mix is poured.
  • But that technique requires transporting carbon dioxide from outside sources to the job site, Sinha says.

How it works: Carbon Upcycling Technologies, or CUT for short, uses a process called mineralization to take construction waste and incorporate it into cement and concrete mix at the factory before it is sent to individual crews.

  • The process leaves carbon dioxide intact and solidifies it in the mix, Sinha explains.
  • A mechanical grinder cuts down the hardened waste or other materials to extend its surface area and adds a catalyst to help the mix absorb the carbon dioxide.
  • For example, CUT has used waste from battery-materials mining to incorporate carbon dioxide into the materials mix.

Yes, and: CUT works directly in cement factories because it cuts off the transportation part of the emissions equation associated with on-site concrete production. CUT can use the carbon emitted from the cement itself or other locally found materials and work them back into the final product, Sinha says.

  • It also manages and takes a cut of carbon credits generated from each project it works on, similar to how CarbonCure works, Sinha says.

💭 Our thought bubble: Frontier, the Stripe-backed fund that wants to help early-stage climate technology startups get off the ground, previously told Axios that it didn't want to make a singular bet on a technology or company when the industry was in such early stages — it wanted to allow space for multiple technical solutions to emerge.

  • The emergence of multiple solutions is exactly what's playing out in the materials sector as entrepreneurs throw everything at the wall to see what can stick.
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