UK Startup Develops Faster Enhanced Rock Weathering Technique

A British startup has pioneered a method to expedite enhanced rock weathering (ERW) by utilizing protein powder.

In a groundbreaking development for the burgeoning carbon capture industry, a British startup has pioneered a method to expedite enhanced rock weathering (ERW) by utilizing protein powder. Enhanced rock weathering involves the application of silicate rock dust on fields to capture carbon dioxide, which reacts with rainwater to form carbonate, permanently sequestering carbon within the rocks.

While ERW has gained momentum in recent years with backing from tech giants like Meta, Google, and Microsoft, challenges remain notably the lengthy timeframe required to effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere. Ultra-fine dust can expedite this process, but obtaining it at scale poses difficulties. London-based startup FabricNano has devised a solution to this hurdle.

FabricNano’s innovation involves the application of protein powder, specifically carbonic anhydrase enzymes, onto crushed basalt rock, drastically reducing the carbon capture timeline from decades to just a couple of years.

Grant Aarons, CEO and founder of FabricNano, explained, “Learning from nature, [this protein] naturally acts to lock carbon within the ground. It is found in plentiful supply in agricultural soils around the world.” FabricNano specializes in cell-free biomanufacturing, extracting enzymes from cells and binding them to materials to enhance their effectiveness. This expertise extends to producing bio-based alternatives for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and enzymes.

With nearly $25 million in funding secured to date, including support from notable figures like actor Emma Watson and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, FabricNano is venturing into carbon capture for the first time.

Advancing the Intersection of Biology and Geology

FabricNano has partnered with French resource management giant Veolia to conduct trials of their innovative technology. These trials will involve combining protein powder with silicate rock on farmland near Bicester, UK, managed by Oxford Agricultural Trials, serving as an open-air laboratory for agricultural research.

Using locally sourced, larger rock particles from nearby mining operations, the trial aims to demonstrate the efficiency and scalability of the technology in capturing large volumes of carbon dioxide. With vast agricultural land and abundant basalt rock reserves in the UK, ERW holds promise for aiding countries in their decarbonization efforts. However, like many emerging carbon capture technologies, rock weathering requires further validation at scale.

Grant Aarons emphasized the need for innovation and government oversight in advancing ERW, underscoring the importance of regulatory frameworks to legitimize carbon markets and drive widespread adoption of critical technologies.

Tapping into Carbon Markets for Sustainable Solutions

Veolia plans to distribute 30,000 tonnes of basalt rock powder across farmland this year, selling one carbon credit for every tonne of carbon removed. These carbon credits serve as a means for companies and countries to offset their emissions. While voluntary carbon markets aim to stimulate demand for technologies like rock weathering, accurately measuring carbon sequestration remains a challenge, leading to scrutiny over the valuation of these credits.

Grant Aarons stressed the necessity of governmental intervention to establish transparent carbon markets and facilitate the widespread deployment of vital technologies like ERW.

As FabricNano and its partners embark on this pioneering endeavor, the convergence of biology and geology offers a promising pathway toward combating climate change and realizing a sustainable future.