Carbon-capture kings: Planetary Technologies lands US$1M prize from Musk Foundation

Carbon removal stock image

An Ottawa-born startup that’s creating a carbon-capture system its founders dub an “antacid for the ocean” can count a group bankrolled by the world’s richest man among its growing list of believers.

Planetary Technologies announced Friday it’s been awarded a US$1-million prize in a competition funded by multibillionaire Elon Musk and his foundation to come up with sustainable ways of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The three-year-old company says the money from the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Milestone Award will go toward the construction of full-scale demonstration facilities in Quebec, Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom. 

Planetary’s proprietary system “purifies” the mountains of alkaline rock waste left behind by large-scale mining operations, extracting the alkalinity from the rubble and putting it in the ocean. There, it accelerates the Earth’s natural carbon cycle, pulling carbon from the air and storing it as a natural component of ocean chemistry for up to 100,000 years.

“We’ve developed a critical tool to restore our climate and our oceans,” Planetary CEO Mike Kelland said in a statement. “With XPRIZE’s validation of our technology, we can accelerate our development to reach our target scale of removing one gigaton of carbon every year.”

The new award is part of the US$100-million XPRIZE Carbon Removal challenge, a four-year global competition funded by Musk and his Musk Foundation. 

Millions in funding

More than 1,100 teams are registered in the competition, and 15 were chosen as milestone winners by a panel of 70-plus independent judges from the fields of carbon removal, climate innovation, energy transition technology and natural ecosystems.

The award is the latest feather in the cap for Planetary, which last month announced it landed $4.2 million from a group of investors that includes Innovacorp, a Nova Scotia Crown corporation that funds early stage tech firms, and San Francisco-based VC firm Apollo Projects.

The firm has also received $3.6 million in grants from governments in Canada and the U.K.

In a nutshell, Planetary’s system scrubs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while making the ocean less acidic. The firm’s founders say that will help boost growth of coral and shellfish such as oysters and lobsters, leading to a healthier ecosystem and a better-functioning food chain.

“It’s like an antacid for the ocean,” Planetary vice-president Jason Vallis told Techopia last month.

Planetary’s leaders say the process of purifying mining waste creates several byproducts with huge commercial potential, including metals such as nickel and cobalt that are widely used in batteries. Demand for those metals is expected to soar in the coming decades as the shift to electric-powered vehicles accelerates.

Green-energy byproduct

The system’s other major byproduct is hydrogen, which many clean-energy disciples see as a potential alternative to fossil fuels in cases where electric power isn’t practical, such as jet aircraft and supertanker transport ships.

In addition to its Nova Scotia plant, Planetary is building a facility in the asbestos-mining hub of Thetford Mines, Que., where 800 million tonnes of waste rock provide the ideal testing ground for its technology. The company is also working on a project in Brazil with Brazilian Nickel PLC, a U.K.-based sustainable nickel and cobalt mining enterprise.

“We’ve got many different avenues available to us in terms of how we commercialize this,” Vallis said.

Among the company’s biggest backers is Shopify, which signed a deal in 2020 that would see the Ottawa-based software giant offset its carbon footprint by buying credits based on carbon removal generated by Planetary’s technology.

The firm’s academic research partners include the University of Miami Basico2 project, an XPRIZE Carbon Removal Student Award winner, the Plymouth Marine Lab and Dalhousie University.