This article is part of a series on the Israeli climate technology ecosystem and some of its innovative ventures. Read this introductory article for an overview of the Israel Climate Technology Center’s public-private partnership, and this article for CENS Nano, a company using nanotechnology to dramatically improve lithium-ion batteries.
Readers of this column know that I have been interested in direct air capture (DAC) technology for many years. Recently, though, my views on DACs have become more nuanced. I continue to see a need for this technology given the holes we’ve dug for ourselves in terms of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, but the economics behind DAC resource usage are starting to bother me more and more.
DAC systems based on liquid sorbents require large amounts of energy and large amounts of water. Ultimately, energy needs will be able to be met through a renewable grid (or possibly through dedicated small nuclear facilities), but there is still a lot of infrastructure that has yet to be built, and the expansion will not happen overnight. Regarding water, every gallon used for DAC is a gallon that cannot be used for agriculture or for human use in a hotter, drier world.
Knowing these weaknesses of sorbent based DACs, imagine how interested I was when I saw the pitch deck from Israel maintenance carbon This shows that technology with a DAC solution can operate with less energy and water.
My interest was heightened when I spoke to Amir Shiner, CEO of RepAir.
RepAir holds an exclusive worldwide license to technology developed by Dr. Yushan Yan, Henry B. du Pont Professor of Chemistry at the University of Delaware. Dr. Yan’s technology is based on research into patented membrane chemistry that filters low atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide from ambient (ie, uncompressed, room temperature) air.
Because the system does not use high temperatures to remove carbon dioxide from the air, each module is expected to consume nearly 70% less energy than a liquid sorbent DAC system. Also, as long as the air has a certain minimum humidity level, no additional water is required. In a dry environment, you only need enough water to exceed the humidity threshold. From a resource usage perspective, this is a very attractive feature!
The more Shiner told me about this idea, the more it sounded like a fuel cell. In fact, the idea is inspired by hydrogen fuel cells and has some similarities in design, and the company has so far been working on modifying electrolyzer membrane development.
Similar to rechargeable batteries, Shiner told me, the RepAir module reverses polarity every now and then—the side that draws in ambient air becomes the side that emits pure CO2, while the side that handles carbon dioxide flips over to act as an air intake. However, even with this switching, the CO2 separation process is virtually continuous.
The RepAir systems are designed to be modular, so customers can simply stack them together to capture more CO2. Since the temperature is kept low during the process, the materials used for the system are abundant, low-cost metals and polymers.
The one piece of equipment that will require development work to scale up is the membrane — it’s really RepAir’s secret sauce. The company’s scientists and engineers are experimenting with different membranes based on slightly different chemistries and are discussing manufacturing requirements for large-scale devices with membrane suppliers, Shiner said.
Before you get too excited about the idea, it’s important to remember that RepAir’s technology is still in the early stages of development and is still working as a lab prototype.
The company has won investment funding from Israeli and UK venture capital firms, as well as an Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) grant, as well as some accelerator funding. The $1.5 million in seed funding enables the RepAir team to begin staffing engineers, materials scientists, chemists and business developers.
Shiner is in the final stages of discussions with several major investors to close an 8-figure Series A round soon. With this investment, the next step is to move the RepAir device from the lab to real operating conditions and test various configurations and prototype membrane designs in different environments.
Long story short, there is still a lot of work to be done, but Shiner is bullish that because the membrane system design is based on well-known and widely used chemistry, the RepAir solution will be able to scale up quickly and efficiently.
I also asked Rotem Yehuda Kakon, my Israeli climate tech guide, what he and CPG saw in RepAir.
“At RepAir, we see an excellent team with a strong desire to lead change in the DAC space, a technology that will play a vital role in limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C.”
Considering what’s at stake – the health of our biosphere and the many benefits of our complex civilization – like Kakon, I support Dr. Yan, Shiner and team RepAir!
As I know, Dr. Yan and Mr. Shiner know that it’s too early to go all-in on the carbon imbalance we’ve created for ourselves.
Smart investors take note.