the Parisian startup that seduced Elon Musk with its decarbonization process

Selected from over 1,000 entries, young Parisian company NetZero has just pocketed one of fifteen million dollar grants awarded by the Elon Musk Foundation as part of a competition dedicated to CO capture projects.two. He developed a process for the production of biochar, a carbon-based soil improver, resulting from the pyrolysis of agricultural residues.

As the IPCC pointed out in its latest report, CO reductiontwo will no longer be enough to sustainably limit global warming. Atmospheric carbon capture solutions must also be implemented.

The purpose of the competition launched by the Elon Musk Foundation is to select and financially support startups that develop innovative and promising processes in this area. It has just named 15 winners, including French startup NetZero, which each received a million-dollar envelope as an incentive. And in 2025, the 3 most promising solutions will still be able to share a donation of 100 million.

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Long-term atmospheric carbon sequestration

The biochar it is used by producers to improve the quality of soils and, therefore, their productivity; but it can also contribute to fight against global warming as a solution to the long-term sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soils.

Biochar production is obtained from organic materials by a process called pyrolysis. It is a thermochemical reaction during which this material is heated to a high temperature in the absence of oxygen. Note that the heat resulting from the process can also be recovered by producing, for example, electricity.

NetZero uses agricultural residues produced in tropical regions, such as coffee and cocoa pods and husks, coconut husks, peanut or cashew nut husks, palm stems, etc. Typically, this waste is burned or sent to landfills where it rots releasing CO.two up in the air.

The main chemical component of biochar is carbon. It was originally captured by plants in the atmosphere during photosynthesis. During the pyrolysis process, it is extracted in the form of a powdery, black, solid material. If it is buried in the ground, that carbon will be stabilized by remaining trapped there for hundreds of years. As understood, biochar production is an inexpensive but also useful long-term carbon removal solution.

According to the IPCC, biochar production solutions, if deployed globally, can extract up to 2 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.two every year.

Also read: Extracting CO2 from the atmosphere: the game between technologies

A first unit launched in Cameroon

Currently, NetZero has a handful of employees. It was co-founded by Aimé Njiakin, a Cameroonian businessman who works mainly in the production of coffee, the French Axel Reinaud, formerly of Boston Consulting Group, as well as the paleoclimatologist Jean Jouzel, an emblematic figure in the fight against climate change.

The startup’s project is to implement large-scale biochar production in tropical regions. Its economic model is mainly based on the sale of carbon credits to large companies.

At COP26 held in Glasgow in November 2021, NetZero announced the launch of a first unit in Nkongsamba in Cameroon. The site is adjacent to a coffee processing factory owned by Aimé Njiakin. ” HAVEWith an annual processing capacity of 10,000 tons, this small 500 m² plant is just the right size to collect agricultural waste in a nearby area and return soil correction to the farmers who provided the raw material.”, explains Axel Reinaud.
The young company is preparing to open a new factory in Brazil “very soon”, it said in a press release.

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