Halifax’s CarbonCure Technologies is a co-winner of the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, a five-year competition to find the world’s best products that use carbon dioxide.

As one of two winners, CarbonCure will receive a prize of US$7.5 million (C$9.4 million). The Halifax company was also one of the 10 finalists in 2018 and thus already received a US$500,000 interim prize. The other winner is Los Angeles-based CarbonBuilt, which is also working in the concrete industry. 

CarbonCure plans to use the funds for two purposes: first, it wants to accelerate its mission to reduce 500 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2030; and second, it wants to establish a fund to combat the social inequity caused by climate change.

“This is a big deal,” CarbonCure President Jennifer Wagner, who was the company’s point person on the XPRIZE competition, said in an interview. “We’ve been working on this for more than five years and the team is thrilled.”

The Carbon XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams to develop breakthrough technologies that convert CO2 into products with the highest net value. Co-sponsored by NRG and COSIA, the multi-year competition is designed to encourage industry to make useful products from CO2 rather than emitting it into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.

CarbonCure, founded by CEO Robert Niven, announced in August 2016 it would enter the competition, and was seen throughout the event as a front-runner because its product is in the market, being used now in more than 100 concrete facilities.

Concrete is the second most abundant man-made material in the world, and cement, its key ingredient, is responsible for an estimated 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. CarbonCure cures concrete by injecting CO2 into it, which produces a stronger concrete while reducing carbon emissions.

“Buildings are the source of 40 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions,” said Marcus Extavour, Executive Director of the Carbon XPRIZE and VP of Climate and Energy for the XPRIZE Foundation. “The world’s building stock is expected to double by 2060 so it’s vital that solutions like CarbonCure’s scale quickly. CarbonCure’s solution for the concrete industry exemplifies XPRIZE’s ideal innovation — it is effective, commercially viable, and scalable — and it can make a real difference to climate change today.”

CarbonCure's Wagner Explains How Big Tech Is Aiding Carbon Removal

CarbonCure has become the world leader in using carbon dioxide (which would have otherwise gone into the atmosphere) to cure concrete. Wagner did not have revenue figures on hand but said the first quarter of 2021 was the company’s best ever in terms of sales. A year ago, the company employed about 40 people. Now its headcount is approaching 100.

And it secured a huge funding round in September. CarbonCure did not reveal how much it had raised, but the names on the investment team show it was a whopper. The syndicate comprised Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Breakthrough Energy (a fund backed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg and the like), Microsoft, and BDC Capital, to name a few.

Because of that funding round, CarbonCure does not need the XPRIZE money, but it will use about half the money for business development and engineering. The goal now is to reach the 500-megatonne mark before 2030, though Wagner said the management team is still working out the details.

Regarding the fund to help address social inequities, Wagner said climate change is now impacting the lives of certain groups, such as racialized communities and people in low-lying areas. Given that the company’s mission is to battle climate change, CarbonCure has decided to use some of the XPRIZE money to help those most affected by its more severe effects.

There are several XPRIZE competitions, ranging from rain forests to COVID tests.  The thinking behind each XPRIZE is that offering a huge prize draws many companies into the race to produce a beneficial product so all participants (not just the winners) advance their technology. Wagner said the competition has been a huge success because so many of the contestants have made headway in carbon-based products in the last five years.

“The whole purpose of the XPRIZE is to create a new industry,” said Wagner. “Five years ago, carbon-removal was not a term.  . . . Now it’s an entirely new industry that’s expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030 and reduce global carbon emissions by 15 percent.”