the Parisian startup that attracted Elon Musk to its decarbonization process

Selected from more than 1,000 applications, the young Parisian company NetZero pocketed one of fifteen one million dollar grants awarded by the Elon Musk Foundation as part of a competition dedicated to CO acquisition projects.2. It developed a process for producing biochar, a change in soil, based on carbon, resulting from the pyrolysis of agricultural waste.

As the IPCC pointed out in its most recent report, the reduction of CO2 will no longer be enough to continue to limit global warming. Atmospheric carbon extraction solutions should also be implemented.

The goal of the competition launched by the Elon Musk Foundation is to select and financially support startups that develop innovative and committed processes in this field. It fielded only 15 winners, including French startup NetZero, who each received a one-million-dollar envelope as encouragement. And in 2025, the 3 most promising solutions will still be able to share a grant of 100 million.

Also read: Carbon storage in the forest: solution or illusion?

Long -term atmospheric carbon sequestration

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

Biochar production is obtained from organic materials through a process called pyrolysis. It is a thermochemical reaction in which this material is heated to high temperatures, in the absence of oxygen. It should be noted 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 shells, coconut shells, peanut or cashew nut shells, palm stalks, etc. Typically, this waste is burned or sent to a landfill where it decomposes releasing CO.2 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 obtained in the form of a powder, black and solid material. If it is buried in the ground, this carbon will stabilize by staying 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 worldwide, could extract up to 2 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.2 Every year.

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

A first unit launched in Cameroon

NetZero currently has few employees. It was co-founded by Aimé Njiakin, a Cameroonian entrepreneur active in particular in coffee production, the French Axel Reinaud, a former Boston Consulting Group, as well as paleoclimatologist Jean Jouzel, an emblematic figure in the fight against climate change.

The startup project will deploy large-scale biochar production in tropical regions. Its economic model is based specifically on the sale of carbon credits to large companies.

At COP26 held in Glasgow in November 2021, NetZero announced the launch of the first Nkongsamba unit in Cameroon. The location is adjacent to a coffee processing factory owned by Aimé Njiakin. “THERE ISwith its 10,000 tons of annual processing capacity, this small 500 m² plant is the right size to collect agricultural wastes in a nearby area and to return land change to farmers who will provide raw material.”, Explained Axel Reinaud.
The young company is preparing to open a new factory in Brazil “soon”, it said in a statement.

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