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August 22, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Holocene Climate Corporation adds a third Co-Founder, moves into new space

The start-up, which is a member of Cohort 6 of the "Innovation Crossroads" program, hopes to have its first commercial facility operating by the end of 2025.

From newly developed space along Papermill Drive to a new Co-Founder and several full-time technical hires, one might say there’s nothing but blue skies on the horizon for Holocene Climate Corporation, a start-up developing a technology to ultimately remove gigatons of carbon dioxide from the air.

And, if everything goes according to plans, the company will have its first commercial facility operating by the end of 2025. “We’ve been working pretty hard, and it’s showing,” says Anca Timofte, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, who moved to Knoxville last October as a member of Cohort 6 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

In addition to the two-year Fellowship through ORNL, Holocene has also secured coveted funding through the Bill Gates-backed “Breakthrough Energy Fellows” global initiative and was selected for the second cohort of the “Spark Incubator Program” at the University of Tennessee Research Park.

Citing the complex market for carbon removal and hard-tech commercialization, Timofte has expanded the leadership team, adding another Co-Founder to join Tobias Rüesch, along with five employees and three interns. Timofte and Rüesch worked together at one of the world’s first direct air capture companies, Switzerland-based Climeworks. Keeton Ross, the newest Co-Founder, and Timofte met when both were MBA students at Stanford University, and he moved to Knoxville in March to join Holocene.

Timofte is involved in both the technology and operations, while Rüesch is focused on the technology, and Ross, who has a background in nuclear energy, concentrates on operations.

We first spotlighted Holocene in this February 9 article and followed up with another article when the start-up executed a license with ORNL for a new, energy-efficient approach to removing CO2 directly from the air. It was developed by Radu Custelcean, a Scientist in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division.

Timofte says much has changed since the beginning of the year when the priority was mostly on R&D.

“We realized that we needed to focus not only on the technology but also on customers, the product, and our team,” she said. That led to the need for adequate space where Holocene could build its first-of-a-kind fully integrated system to demonstrate the technology. It has a footprint of roughly 20 feet by 20 feet and will be located at the rear of the Papermill headquarters.

“We are ordering equipment now,” Timofte says. Once it arrives in Q4 of 2023, it will be assembled, and the demonstration unit will become operational to start in 2024.

The funding from “Breakthrough Energy Fellows” is for two years, is non-dilutive, and will help Holocene “make one big step forward to make us ready for outside investment,” she adds.

Ross is a former McKinsey & Company Engagement Manager who has worked across the climate hardware start-up and venture capital ecosystem in both Ann Arbor, MI, and Palo Alto, CA. We wondered why he decided to uproot and relocate to Knoxville.

“It started with Anca, Tobi, and the company,” Ross said. He was also sold on the entrepreneurial vibe in the city, the access to world-class nature, the college town feel, and the technical assets like ORNL.

Ross is not alone in the attractiveness that Knoxville has for new hires at Holocene. Of the five added, three are seasoned veterans – 10 to 30 years of experience – who moved here from either Austin, St. Louis, or Canada.

“We have a rolling application process,” Ross adds. “We see a world where we will be much bigger and believe this is just the start of building a home here in Knoxville.”

The path beyond Holocene’s demonstration unit runs through their next facility which will be 100 times bigger, commercially relevant, and further accelerate the company’s journey to remove gigatons of carbon dioxide from the air.

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