Berkeley-based team wins prize for carbon dioxide reduction technology

Opus 12/Courtesy

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Two teams from the Bay Area — Opus 12, based in Berkeley, and New Energy Nexus/California Clean Energy Fund, or NEX/CalCEF, based in Oakland — won the Keeling Curve Prize, an award presented to teams across the world for developing global warming solutions, on June 28.

The competition awarded $25,000 to each winning team, with two winners per category across five categories — Carbon Capture & Utilization, Energy Access, Transportation, Finance, and Social & Cultural Impacts — according to a June 28 Keeling Curve Prize press release. The Opus 12 team was one of the Carbon Capture & Utilization winners, and the NEX/CalCEF team was one of the Finance winners, out of a pool of almost 150 applicants worldwide.

According to a Keeling Curve Prize video, the prize’s mission “is to recognize the most promising ideas that either effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon uptake.”

The prize itself is named after a model developed by Charles David Keeling, a scientist who worked at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and measured carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii from the 1950s until his death in 2005, according to the Scripps CO2 Program website. Keeling’s data draw attention to human influence on climate change and gives evidence that carbon dioxide has been accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Keeling Curve Prize website.

The NEX/CalCEF team developed a “qualified clean energy opportunity zoning fund,” which supports energy entrepreneurs, according to the Keeling Curve Prize website.

According to Heidi Lim, the chief of staff at Opus 12, the team’s award-winning device takes carbon dioxide and water and produces high-value chemicals and fuels that are conventionally made with petroleum.

“Petroleum is embedded in lots of parts of our lives,” Lim said. She added that with this new device, the team is able to “replace petroleum as an input … to turn carbon dioxide into things that have value.”

Opus 12’s technology diminishes emissions and produces the “critical products that are the building blocks of modern civilization,” according to the Opus 12 website.

The Opus 12 device uses electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to rearrange the molecules of carbon dioxide and water to create types of materials that are traditionally petroleum-reliant, according to Lim. According to the Opus 12 website, the process can currently generate 16 different products. Among these products are ethylene, a precursor for most plastics, methane and syngas, which is a product used in food preservation, manufacturing performance foams and pharmaceuticals.

Lim said  the “prestigious award” will help the team scale its technology to continue to address the increase in carbon dioxide levels.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected].