Meet the French start-up using rock weathering CO2 removal

ClimeRock, a start-up from France, removes CO2 and restores degraded lands, primarily agricultural soils. They achieve this with a solution called Enhanced Rock Weathering, or ERW for short. Columnist Markus Sekulla learned about ERW while talking to the founders Antoine Davy and Arthur Chabot. ClimeRock takes part in the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator programme of EIT Climate-KIC that is supported by Munich Re and ERGO.

Hi Antoine, Hi Arthur, please introduce yourselves: Who are you and what does ClimeRock do?

Antoine: We are Antoine and Arthur, the co-founders of ClimeRock. We are French engineers and have been good friends for a long time. We started ClimeRock last summer in August 2023, so it’s quite new. In a few words, we remove CO2 and restore degraded lands, primarily agricultural soils. We achieve this with a solution called Enhanced Rock Weathering, or ERW for short. This involves spreading fine silicate rocks, usually basalt in our case, across large areas of land such as croplands and pastures, using them as fertilizer.

Can you tell me a little bit about your backgrounds?

Arthur: I graduated as a materials engineer and have primarily worked in different innovation fields, mainly in tech, starting with the cloud and then moving into AI. I’ve also founded a start-up in the mobile industry, so this isn’t my first time as an entrepreneur. However, recently with Antoine, we decided to fully dedicate ourselves to addressing climate change due to the urgency of the issue. My skills in materials sciences, AI, and digital technologies are now focused on climate science and carbon dioxide removal.

Antoine: I’m an industrial engineer, and I come from a city in the west of France. My background is more in operations, particularly in mining. I’ve worked for a French company called Imerys, which owns quarries and plants, where I focused on managing and optimising operations in Europe and Latin America. What I particularly like about our current work is the strong link with agriculture since I come from a family of farmers.

How many people work for ClimeRock, and where are they based?

Antoine: So far, it’s just the two of us, but we plan to grow over the next few months, starting with hiring people for our science and operations teams. We are based in the Île-de-France region, near Paris. However, our operations are mainly located in the Massif Central, a former volcanic region where we have a lot of feedstock.

Can you describe what ClimeRock does as if I were a four-year-old child?

Arthur: Sure. Imagine the Earth is getting hotter, like it’s boiling, and that’s causing lots of natural disasters. What we do at ClimeRock is like putting a big sponge in the air to soak up CO2, the thing that’s making the Earth hotter. We use rocks to do this. These rocks turn the CO2 in the air into something called bicarbonate, which is not causing damage to the climate anymore. This bicarbonate flows with water through the ground until the rivers and the oceans. So basically, we’re trying to make the Earth cooler by using rocks.

And where do you get the rocks you use?

Arthur: We get the rocks as a byproduct from aggregate quarries. They extract rocks for making roads, buildings, and concrete, which generates a lot of dust. So we use this powdered rock as a raw material for our carbon removal process. That is the circular aspect of what we do: turning waste into a useful product for farmers.

What makes you stand out from your competition, if you have any?

Antoine: To be honest, at this stage, we don’t see others as competitors. There’s still a lot of innovation and research needed in carbon removal, and every contribution from any company is welcome. However, what sets us apart for now is that we are the first using enhanced rock weathering in France, which has a big carbon removal potential with this solution. We will deepen our differentiation with an innovative measurement and verification process developed in collaboration with top scientific institutes. Finally, our research and development efforts as well as our process improvement strategy will enable us to disrupt ERW costs.

Our business model is the following: we provide natural fertilizers to farmers for free, and all the costs are covered by the carbon removal impact of our solution. We measure the CO2 that we capture and sell it as carbon removal certificates to organisations committed to achieving net-zero emissions. These tons of carbon removal help them neutralise their residual emissions. Our customers prioritise reducing emissions first, but when it’s challenging to eliminate all emissions, they turn to solutions like ours. Not all companies do this yet, but there are pioneers supporting such solutions, which enables us to develop our technology and be ready for future demand.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?

Arthur: Our biggest challenge is convincing potential customers of the importance of investing in high-quality carbon removal certificates. There’s currently no obligation for them to purchase such certificates, and many decision-makers prioritize more immediate concerns over long-term climate action. It’s challenging to persuade them to invest in long-term solutions like ours, which don’t provide immediate returns but are crucial for addressing climate change in the long run.

Can you describe the moment when you decided to start ClimeRock?

Antoine: Unlike many entrepreneurs, we didn’t start with a specific idea but with the intention of creating a company with a positive impact, particularly in carbon removal. We researched various technologies and options and became convinced of enhanced rock weathering due to its low energy needs, its usage of existing infrastructure, and the co-benefits it provides for farmers. We realised we had the skillset to pursue this, and it was fully aligned with our passion for contributing to the fight against climate change. And so the company was launched.

What would you say is the most important milestone for ClimeRock in 2024?

Antoine: Our main goal for 2024 is to transition from the pilot stage to having a significant impact. We aim to scale up our operations and deliver measurable results over hundreds of hectares of land. To achieve this, we need to secure funding, gain early adopters, and continue our research and development efforts to unlock the full potential of our technology.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for start-ups in the GreenTech field?

Arthur: The biggest challenge for start-ups in carbon removal is demonstrating the credibility and effectiveness of their solutions in the voluntary carbon market. This market has faced skepticism in the past, and start-ups like ClimeRock are working to establish rigorous methods backed by science to ensure the quality and reliability of carbon removal. However, high-quality carbon removal certificates often come at a higher price compared to traditional carbon offsets, so convincing buyers can be challenging. Education and awareness about the differences between various carbon removal methods are essential for overcoming this challenge.

Do you believe humanity still has a chance to solve the climate crisis?

Antoine: While the situation is urgent, we remain optimistic about humanity’s ability to address the climate crisis. There are positive signs of increasing awareness and action at various levels, from individuals to governments. Although we’re already late in reducing emissions, innovative solutions offer hope for mitigating the effects of climate change.

Arthur: We need to reduce far more of our emissions. More important than doing carbon removal, we need to leave the oil and gas in the ground and not extract it anymore. Keep in mind, it’s much more difficult to remove carbon than to extract it. It’s crucial to act swiftly and decisively to transition to a greener economy and prioritise long-term sustainability.

Interview: Markus Sekulla

The original version of this article was published here.