The prominent early-stage investor has invited start-ups to explore new ways to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in order to promote their accelerator program.
Background: A growing body of research concludes that it will be virtually impossible for the world to avoid a dangerous increase in global temperatures by 2 ° C by merely reducing greenhouse gas emissions since concentrations are already in the atmosphere and the nations are slowly switching to clean energy. At that time, the UN Climate Change Panel and other institutions have already announced that various methods of capture and storage of carbon dioxide will be needed.
The problem is that scientists and companies have not yet found a way to do so economically (1
Four Areas: Several start-ups, including Climeworks and Carbon Engineering, have raised money and built facilities to extract carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. But Y Combinator highlighted four earlier stages of greenhouse gas removal that "we think they deserve more research and attention – which YC would like to fund."
This includes the use of an electrochemical process to accelerate the natural process of mineral weathering, which extracts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the oceans; Creation of genetically modified phytoplankton that can capture and store carbon dioxide in the ocean through photosynthesis; Artificially flood deserts to create oases that can support phytoplankton for the same purpose; and engineering enzymes that can capture and store carbon efficiently and then disposed of or used to create other products.
Y Combinator said it would consider funding startups or non-profit research in these areas
Risks v: Given the rising risks of climate change and the cautious public policy response, it is important to support research in areas that can potentially address the dangers.
But there is a separate question as to whether such ideas have reached a point. It makes sense to start a for-profit business that may be under economic pressure to implement solutions before its environmental risks and benefits have been adequately investigated. Adding a profit motive to a bold proposition – such as desert flooding – will certainly complicate what is already an incredibly intense public debate about using these technologies.
Remarkably, in 2012, a Californian entrepreneur involved in carbon offset markets sparked international controversy by pouring iron dust into the Pacific Ocean to promote plankton growth, violating scientific protocols.
As a Nature article recorded last year, researchers have completed 13 major studies that explore the use of iron fertilization since 1990, but still have conclusive evidence that it shields carbon dioxide. However, some scientists fear that they can affect the ecosystems of the oceans by producing poisonous algal blooms.
Premature Interest: Gernot Wagner, senior director of the Harvard Solar Geoengineering research program, said this was of critical importance to the private sector in developing commercially viable ways to remove greenhouse gases. In particular, the financing of projects enables the direct inclusion of aircraft that technologically "further accelerate the learning process and lower the cost curve," he said in an e-mail.
"That's where Y Combinator shines," added Wagner. For more experimental applications such as the cultivation of genetically engineered phytoplankton, which should focus on basic research, commercial interest would be premature today. "