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Bring captured carbon to the barbecue

Illustration of a hand placing the cap from a condiment sauce squeeze bottle on top of a smokestack.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A Bay Area startup is working to mass-produce "bio-oil," a tar-like goop that can be diluted to give sauces a smoky flavor — or which can be pumped underground to store carbon emissions.

Why it matters: The startup, Charm Industrial, says it's one of the only companies that is actually capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions — and selling carbon credits to big-name customers like Microsoft and Stripe.

Driving the news: Charm is opening an R&D "miniforge" at a 30,000-square-foot facility outside Denver.

  • It's eyeing an expansion into decarbonizing steelmaking.

How it works: Charm collects the stalks and other residue left over from farming, then heats it in a pyrolyzer until it breaks down into bio-char and bio-oil.

  • The bio-oil can be injected deep underground where it becomes a solid — effectively sequestering the carbon emissions that had been captured by the plants Charm collected and goopified.
  • "We are pumping barbecue sauce underground," co-founder Peter Reinhardt tells Axios. "It’s our uniquely American approach."
  • The company has raised about $25.5 million to date at a $126.5 million valuation. Its most recent raise closed in January, with an undisclosed amount raised from Breyer Capital, MCJ Collective, Systemiq Capital, XYZ Ventures and AENU.

The intrigue: Charm has sequestered more than 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

  • That's roughly the carbon footprint of about 360 Americans — a small number, Reinhardt acknowledges. But it puts Charm ahead of a number of carbon-capture operations that remain under development.
  • "Holy shit, we’ve seen enough renderings over the years," Reinhardt says. "We need it to become real. Let’s put some numbers on the scoreboard. Let’s actually race."

Zoom out: Bio-oil can be made with timber or other forest residue. Countries such as Canada, Finland and Sweden, which have sizable timber industries, have seen recent investments in bio-oil production facilities.

What's next: The company can produce what's known as "syngas," which can be incorporated into steelmaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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