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"Innovation Crossroads" one of several exciting opportunities for Holocene Climate Corporation
June 05, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Local start-up Holocene licenses ORNL technology

The member of Cohort 6 of the "Innovation Crossroads" program executes agreement for an innovative and sustainable chemistry developed for capturing carbon dioxide from air.

An innovative and sustainable chemistry developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for capturing carbon dioxide from air has been licensed to Holocene, a Knoxville-based start-up focused on designing and building plants that remove carbon dioxide from atmospheric air.

The company, a participant in Cohort 6 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program at ORNL, was co-founded by Anca Timofte, a native of Romania, and Tobias Rüesch, who grew-up in Switzerland. We spotlighted the company in early February in this article where Timofte told us, “I’ve been thinking about this company for a longtime.”

In a news release announcing the license, it was noted that Timofte avidly followed the published literature around carbon capture, particularly those of ORNL’s Radu Custelcean’s publications. She recognized the name as being Romanian, but she also saw how his chemistry could address the major hurdles of the two established direct air capture processes.

In direct air capture, a large fan pulls air through a contacting chamber where the air interacts with chemical compounds that filter and capture carbon dioxide. The CO2 can then be released from the capture material and stored deep underground.

“Direct air capture allows us to collect legacy emissions,” said Custelcean. “Our technology is one of the few approaches that can do that. It offers a new, energy-efficient approach to removing CO2 directly from air.”

Timofte and Rüesch worked at one of the world’s first direct air capture companies, Switzerland-based Climeworks. She contributed to the design of the company’s largest plant, which is in Iceland. With a growing interest in the market and finance aspects of carbon capture, she left Climeworks to enroll in the Master of Business Administration program at Stanford University to focus on climate technology and entrepreneurship.

“The more I learned about his (Custelcean’s) research, the more I saw the potential and the more I wanted to start my own company to pursue it,” Timofte said. “With the encouragement of my professors, I founded Holocene and licensed the technology so I could work on it in a lab and think more about commercialization.”

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