Frontier portfolio

Product

Injecting and storing carbon directly into usable products, like concrete

Permanent carbon removal

15% of fund spend

Humans have engineered the ability to capture CO₂ from the atmosphere with technologies like direct air capture, which sucks carbon directly from the air, and carbon capture and storage (CCS), which snags emissions from smokestacks before they reach the atmosphere.

But how do you monetize that captured CO₂? This is a big barrier for the carbon removal market. By turning that CO₂ into a valuable product, it becomes a lucrative business opportunity.

Right now, most captured CO₂ is used for enhanced oil recovery. Basically, after oil operators have used pressure and water to push out all the oil they can, they add CO₂ to get more out. The CO₂ acts as a solvent that makes oil less sticky and easier to extract. During this process, much of the CO₂ is sucked up by the earth below and stored permanently. This is a good way to reduce the footprint of oil extraction, but we need to minimize our reliance on fossil fuels, and so we also need to find other uses for captured carbon.

One use case seems particularly promising: concrete, the most abundant human-made material in the world. We create 40 billion tons of it each year, and we’re not slowing down—estimates show that we’ll add two trillion square feet of new building space by 2060.Footnote 1 That’s the equivalent of building a New York City every month for the next 40 years.

While concrete is a reliable building material, it’s currently bad for the environment. Concrete production accounts for 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.Footnote 2

So what if we could capture and store carbon within that concrete to reduce its overall environmental impact?

Concrete vs. cement

Concrete and cement are not the same. Concrete is the end product, made of cement, water, and crushed rocks or sand. Cement is a mixture of minerals that reacts and hardens with water. Think of it like baking a cake: cement is the flour and concrete is the finished dessert.

Making cement is highly energy intensive and almost always uses fossil fuels. Plus, most cement is made by heating limestone to super-high temperatures, which emits CO₂ as it turns into lime.

Company spotlight

CarbonCure

CarbonCure’s CEO Robert Niven started his first business before the age of 12, reselling stickers to schoolyard pals. He found his big business idea when he attended the 2005 UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal and learned about the looming opportunity of carbon capture and storage. Taking what he’d learned during his engineering degree about permanently storing CO₂ within concrete, CarbonCure was born.

He figured, humans aren’t going to stop building things with concrete any time soon. So why not work with the massive concrete industry to create greener building materials?

CarbonCure’s technology works like this: CO₂ emissions are collected and purified, transported and stored onsite at concrete plants, then injected into concrete during the mixing process. The injected CO₂ reacts with the concrete mix and transforms into a mineral.

The resulting concrete is stronger than the traditional version and requires less of its most expensive ingredient, cement. As a result, every cubic yard of CO₂-injected concrete saves an average of 25 pounds of CO₂ emissions. An average midrise building built with their product would prevent about 1.5 million pounds of CO₂ from going into the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the CO₂ absorbed by about 890 acres of forest in a year. Plus, the mineralized CO₂ can be sold as carbon removal credits, making the process even more lucrative.

CarbonCure is already working with about 300 concrete plants. The carbon they’ve mineralized in concrete represents 90% of the total global amount of carbon that has been captured, used, and stored—a process called carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). Their ambitious goal is to prevent 500 megatonnes (550 million tons) of CO₂ emissions from entering the atmosphere every year by 2030.

Shopify’s offset purchase from CarbonCure comes from our belief that we need to create a market for CO₂ as a valuable product. Our investment signals to concrete producers that there is a demand for CO₂, and hopefully more of them will sign up to work with CarbonCure as a result. Once this happens, industries like direct air capture (DAC) will enjoy new revenue streams and be able to drive down costs for their processes.

“Concrete is the backbone of modern society, and it’s not going anywhere. Because of its abundance, concrete made with captured carbon dioxide presents a tremendous carbon-reducing opportunity with immediate and long-term climate benefits.”

—Robert Niven, CarbonCure founder & CEO