Our Investment in Heirloom
Low-cost direct air capture via mineralization
We’ve previously shared our interest in businesses built around innovative solutions that directly address the climate crisis. Like many others, we believe solutions like direct air capture and negative emissions are not “nice-to-haves” but instead are mission critical for mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Whether it’s sequestering carbon dioxide underground at scale through liquified biomass (as portfolio company Charm Industrial is pursuing) or retrofitting cooling towers to remove carbon from ambient air (as recent portfolio company Noya is endeavoring), we’re fascinated by and optimistic about carbon removal solutions that cost-effectively sequester CO2 at gigaton-scale. We evaluate opportunities within this space through a framework incorporating scaling potential, unit economics and costs, and technical feasibility. Fortunately, an increasing number of technologies and young companies are emerging that check these boxes.
One such company that fits this profile is Heirloom, which we’re excited to announce MCJ Collective is backing. Founded by Shashank Samala and Noah McQueen, Heirloom is commercializing research developed at several leading research universities to create “carbon farms” that utilizes a naturally occurring mineralization process to capture and store CO2 more affordably.
What is Heirloom?
San Francisco-based Heirloom is a direct air capture company founded on research that investigated the natural process of mineralization, specifically the chemical reaction that leads oxides to capture CO2. The basis of Heirloom’s technology is a system that cycles oxides through carbon-containing ambient air (a process known as “weathering”) where it absorbs CO2 and becomes carbonate. The carbonate then passes through a calciner where the CO2 is removed, producing magnesium oxide that is recycled through the process. An activity that normally might take years to occur in nature, mineralization happens in days thanks to Heirloom’s technology.
Heirloom’s has devised a “looping” direct air capture process by which magnesium oxide is passively exposed to ambient air (“weatherized”), captures CO2, and then recycles through the process again.
Integrating components from existing DAC technology, Heirloom envisions its carbon farms will be able to scale to gigatons of carbon removal per year by 2035. Moreover, it believes that the materially lower energy and heat requirements and lower input costs will translate into a meaningfully cheaper removal and storage cost, as low as $60/tCO2. To date, this cost has been one of the lingering barriers to widespread DAC adoption. By significantly reducing removal costs, the team believes it can offer a compelling supply of verifiable carbon offsets to companies of all sizes in the voluntary and compliance markets.
Why Did We Invest?
Shashank, Heirloom’s CEO, is a seasoned entrepreneur and operator, having co-founded and served as VP of Product at Tempo. His role building a large software-driven electronics factory impressed us and is clearly relevant to building and scaling a hardware-centric business like Heirloom.
Noah, Heirloom's Head of Research, has spent the last 4 years working with Jen Wilcox's lab, helping to drive the bleeding edge of Direct Air Capture and Carbon Mineralization research. Noah has led or contributed to over 10 peer reviewed publications on the broader carbon removal space, including as lead author of the foundational Nature paper on Heirloom's approach. He also has extensive experience building Techno-economic Analyses and Life Cycle Analyses for a variety of carbon removal approaches.
The combined experience in entrepreneurship, scaling technologies, and scientific research make this an ideal founder fit.
The Underlying Science Offers Confidence
As mentioned earlier, the basis of Heirloom’s technology stems from research led, in part, by Dr. Jennifer Wilcox who now serves at the U.S. Department of Energy. While there inevitably will be a need to bridge the gap between research performed at the lab bench and commercializing the technology in market, we are confident this risk is managed by the encouraging findings of the research and Heirloom’s iterative prototyping.
A Compelling Vision
The vision for Heirloom strikes the critical notes for commercializing carbon removal: sequestering gigaton-scale quantities of CO2 at a diminishing cost over time and serving a carbon offset market for which demand is rapidly growing. The sheer quantity of CO2 that needs to be removed from the atmosphere leads us to believe that this is not a winner-take-all market. Rather, we believe a panoply of compelling technologies will gain traction, and that Heirloom is well-positioned to take on a leading role in the drawdown of atmospheric carbon.
If you are an accredited investor and want to learn more about being an investor in our fund (to back more great companies like this one!), reach out here.