“Rethinking CO2″ at Yale Environment 360

I’ve been a devoted reader of  YaleEnvironment360, an online magazine that offers excellent reporting and solid analysis of all things environmental, since its launch in 2008.  So I’m pleased that this week I wrote my first story for the website.

The story is about how carbon dioxide can be removed from the air, a technology I reported on last fall for FORTUNE and that will be the subject on my forthcoming book, Suck It Up: How capturing carbon from the air can help solve the climate crisis. The ebook will be published next month as an Amazon Kindle Single. I’ll have more to say about it (and the ebook publishing model) when the book is released.

The YaleE360 story is headlined: Rethinking Carbon Dioxide: From a Pollutant to an Asset.

Here’s how it begins:

With global greenhouse gas emissions still on the rise, despite decades of talk about curbing them, maybe the time has come to think differently about the climate crisis. Yes, we need to burn less coal, oil and natural gas, but clearly fossil fuels are going to be around for awhile. So why not try to clean up the mess they make?

That’s what a handful of prominent scientists are trying to do by developing technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air. These scientists have launched start-up companies and attracted well-to-do investors — most notably Bill Gates — along with venture capital and, most recently, the attention of Wall Street. They say their technology does not need government support, though it would help. What it needs, above all, is a mindset that regards CO2 not simply as a pollutant but as a valuable commodity.

Nathaniel “Ned” David, the chief executive of a startup called Kilimanjaro Energy, puts it this way: “The single largest waste product made by humanity is CO2. Thirty gigatons a year. It’s immensely valuable, and today we just blow it out the tail pipe. What if there were some way to actually capture it, use it, and make money?”

You can read the rest here.

Writing the story gave me the opportunity to reconnect with Roger Cohn, the editor of YaleE360, who was a classmate of mine at Yale in the 1970s (although we didn’t know one another then.) Roger, who went on to report for The Philadelphia Inquirer and edit Audubon magazine and Mother Jones, has done an excellent job with the Yale site.

A last thought: If you write a blog or host a radio show (or know someone who does)  I’d like to get the word out about the book, which explains why we’ve failed to deal with global warming and why air capture of CO2 could be a promising, market-based response to climate change. I’ll be attending the first scientific conference devoted to air capture in Calgary, Alberta, on March 7-8. More to come, soon.

Kilimanjaro Energy: towering ambitions

Mount Kilimanjaro

Over the last decade, Nathaniel “Ned” David, a Harvard and Berkeley-trained PhD., has co-founded five technology companies that have collectively raised more than $700 million in financing. One, Syrrx, made a diabetes drug. A second, Achaogen, is developing a potent antibiotic. A third, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, a pioneer in the field of  “aesthetic medicine,” is working on an injectable drug that will reduce localized fat–no more double chins!–and it was his experience there that led Ned into the world of clean energy and climate change.

There’s nothing wrong with helping people to look better, he told me when we met recently, but it wasn’t enough: “I was feeling a little ennui around what I was doing.” His son, Magellan, had just been born. “I suddenly had this desire to work on something of great moral urgency,” he said.

Ned David

That’s no longer an issue. Ned, who is a boyish 43, helped start Sapphire Energy, an algae company, on whose board he still sits, and last fall he became the president of an audacious San Francisco-based startup called Kilimanjaro Energy. It goal? To harvest CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to make transportation fuels with a much lower carbon footprint than gasoline or diesel.

The name of the company says it all:  “We’re going to try to make fuels, while simultaneously saving the snows of Kilimanjaro,” Ned says. [click to continue…]