Dr. Christina Reynolds knew she was onto something big while working toward her PhD in engineering at the University of Michigan. But it would take her nearly a decade and a job at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to refine the technology that now promises to tackle one of the major contributors to climate change: carbon emissions from semi-trucks.
Paul Gross was finishing up his senior year of college at Yale University when he stumbled upon Reynolds' dissertation about mobile carbon capture. He convinced her to quit her job at the EPA and together with Eric Harding, a mechanic-turned-engineer, they launched the startup Remora. The team says its device captures at least 80% of carbon emissions from semi-trucks and the captured emissions can then be sold to industries such as concrete producers or permanently sequestered in depleted oil wells.
"Reducing carbon emissions is the number one way we mitigate climate change," Reynolds said. "I'm doing this because there is no time to wait for a better solution to come along."
Trucks move more than 70% of all goods in the US, making them an essential part of our everyday lives, but medium and heavy-duty trucks account for about one-quarter of the transportation sector's carbon emissions, according to the EPA.
Several companies have been trying to electrify trucks, but it's been difficult to adapt these vehicles, which regularly travel thousands of miles carying freight. It's also inefficient to replace every single truck on the road, as well as overhaul the country's electrical grid to ensure that there are enough charging opportunities available for trucks on their long journeys. Additionally, the batteries required to electrify trucks take up a huge amount of weight and space.
Remora's solution overcomes these challenges by using carbon-capture technology. This type of equipment has been used to collect pollution from power plants or pull carbon emissions directly from the air, but Remora's technology is the first to focus on mobile carbon capture from semi-trucks.
The device works like a big filter. It attaches to the truck's tailpipes, and as the exhaust flows through, it absorbs the carbon dioxide molecules while letting harmless gases like nitrogen and oxygen pass through and re-enter the atmosphere.
As the truck is used, the absorbed carbon dioxide is then heated up and released as a stream of pure carbon dioxide into a tank on the vehicle. This tank can hold the dioxide generated from around 600 miles of driving.
When a driver pulls into a truck stop to refuel, they'll be able to pump the carbon into an offload tank that Remora plans to install at distribution centers and truck stops. The offloading process would only take a few minutues, and the captured carbon dioxide can later be sold for use in products such as cement, where it becomes permanently sequestered.
Remora's innovative tech was a winner of a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021, an annual competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world's toughest problems. Remora won the Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize, which is given to a team that uses technology to address the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.
"Climate change is happening right now and it's terrifying, and I don't see why someone would work on anything else," Gross said.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Cisco in its ongoing commitment to stop the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Cisco's own goal is to reach net zero emissions across all scopes by 2040.