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💬 Building Companies for the Net Zero Transition

My Climate Journey

Photo by Ümit Yıldırım / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Jason Jacobs
Guest: Dominic Falcão | Founding Director | Deep Science Ventures
Category: 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:06] “We build companies. […] We are outcomes focused and means-agnostic. So what that means for us is we work backwards from desired outcomes, to form a team to form intellectual property and technology and products and business models from scratch, based on what has failed and what has succeeded in the past. So instead of building things from university based intellectual property, or building up teams based on the idea of an individual, we're focused really on these […] overarching goals. And we're focused on areas such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, energy, and computing, and specific outcomes inside of those. So my work is predominantly focused on climate. And inside of that the net zero transition. And so we have a number of intermediate outcomes inside of that that we're focused on and we build companies so as to address.”

[5:35] “Inside of this idea of net zero transition for us, there are sort of five key requirements that we're currently working on. One is that we need to remediate historical emissions. Another is we need to reduce the emissions going into the future. A third is that we need to find a way of eliminating the sunk cost in the oil and gas industry and making it easy for that huge wealth of assets to move across […]. And a fifth is that we need to generate energy and create energy systems that are capable of holding renewable energy successfully. And so on each of those, we then have further intermediate more defined outcomes. So inside of remediating historic emissions, for example, we think that an example of an intermediate outcome is ambient temperature, ambient pressure, direct air capture, so removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at ambient temperature and pressure. And we think that in order to achieve a net zero transition overall, that's one of the set technologies required, going back up to that whole high level outcome of net zero transition.”

[10:53] “In most European universities, spinning out is a thing you do once you realize you can't license your technology. And it's only done with less than 1% of the technology [being] formed at universities, and on the basis of the judgment of the academics you form them. That's the kind of extremely harsh pipeline you have to go through to get technology into the world today. What you don't have is a group of people who are thinking about from the beginning […] what would have to be true of that technology, in order for it to successfully scale in the world. That's a whole other set of parameters. It often would mean, for example, starting not with a technology that's novel or new, but instead starting on the basis of technologies that already exist, because that's the thing that makes best use of existing infrastructure, and has the least technical risk, because it's surrounded by things in the knowledge landscape that we already know. And then combining it with things that we also already know a lot about. […] And when we started DSV, it wasn't as a criticism of the way that translation of science exists, but rather as an acknowledgement of the fact that we serve different ends, which is to create companies not to license technologies, not to create novel technologies.”

[13:04] “If you acknowledge that we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it's clear that there are certain constraints that need to be fulfilled for this to be an effective process. So there's no point removing carbon from the atmosphere, if you can't verify that it was removed. Moreover, there's no point removing carbon from the atmosphere if you can't measure how much carbon was removed. And there's no point removing it from the atmosphere, if it then is immediately put back into the atmosphere. So then you have transparency, verifiability and permanence as constraints around what you create here. That immediately means that we're looking largely at mechanical and chemical processes or biological processes that have some kind of micro level of verification, or where you can measure the outcomes.”

[13:46] “What we realize too, is that there's no point doing this if you have to burn loads of natural gas, or produce loads of CO2 and do it. So if your process emits as much CO2 as it captures is pointless. So it has to work with renewables, it's another constraint. And ideally, it uses as little renewable as possible, because renewable energy is going to be a major cost input in almost every case. Now, if you keep following these constraints, you can see, if you want to use renewable electricity, and you want to use as little as possible, then probably the greatest loss of efficiency, you're going to find is in heating or cooling, increasing pressure or reducing pressure, because these are really energy intensive. And so now we get into the realm of hypothesis.”

[14:24] “One hypothesis is that one of the most efficient possible processes for removing carbon from the atmosphere is to do so at ambient temperature and ambient pressure. Other constraints include not having to use rare earth or rare materials in the production of your thing, being able to use supply chains that already exist, and so on. So now you've got a set of constraints around which you can hypothesize potential combinations of technologies.”

[14:48] “One of the first things you'll do if you're doing this is to think about what processes already exist that fulfill some of these criteria. So one of the processes we looked at was the way biology separates carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So every time you breathe in, you separate carbon dioxide from air. And every time you breathe out, you have a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the air that you breathe out than the air that you breathe in, which means we must be concentrating quite efficiently. And we're also doing what must be close to ambient temperature and pressure. It turns out on further investigation that there is an enzyme in the human body, which does this extremely efficiently […]. And so we built a company […] inspired by this biological mechanism.”

[30:10] “We live and work in an economy which doesn't value the same goods that we need to value in order to have an effective transition to a net zero, or a healthy planetary system. If the economy that existed valued biodiversity properly and valued clean air properly, then the companies that we formed would have no problem whatsoever. But we have these kinds of broader structural issues.”

[39:03] “I would love to think about how we can better coordinate climate, venture capital and climate R&D to make sure that there is less replication, so there's better shared information. Because I think unlike in other sectors, because we work as part of these complex embedded supply chains, the returns to us collaborating and succeeding together are much greater, there's not so much of a zero sum game as there is for example in software, where one company can take all. In this case if I capture carbon, I need someone else to verify I've captured it. I need someone else to monetize that. I need someone else to create a marketplace in which I can sell it.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "Dominic Falcão, Founding Director of Deep Science Ventures")
🕰️ 43 min | 🗓️ 08/23/2021
✅ Time saved: 41 min

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