Y Combinator looks to fund carbon startups


Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator announced on Tuesday that carbon technology is high on their wish list for future startups.

Y Combinator’s top 100 companies are worth more than $100 billion and include Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. 

This isn’t their first foray into green tech; they have previously funded clean energy and electric vehicles. This time they are specifically looking for ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

They wrote: “It’s time to invest and avidly pursue a new wave of technological solutions to this problem – including those that are risky, unproven, even unlikely to work.”

The request is for what Y Combinator call “frontier technologies”.

Ocean phytoplankton

This approach would engineer phytoplankton to trap carbon without disturbing other marine life.

Electro-geo chemistry

This is based on mineral weathering, a natural process that turns carbon dioxide into minerals. It takes thousands of years, but a successful startup could speed it up.

Cell-free enzyme systems

Microbes create enzymes, some of which can be used for carbon fixing. The downside is that living cells are unpredictable and can change entire ecosystems. Y Combinator are looking for a way to synthesise enzymes without cells.

Desert flooding

This idea would flood deserts to create oases of liveable land, then use them to grow phytoplankton and trap carbon.

These four ideas are based in reality, but until now have only been ideas. By pouring funding into research they hope to find out what is actually workable.

“They may seem like moonshots now, but our goal is to try to come up with technically feasible solutions at realistic costs,” wrote president Sam Altman. “It’s time to take big swings at stopping climate change and put more resources into work already being done.”