Interview with Ebb Carbon founder Ben Tarbell

Benjamin Schulz: When did you create Ebb Carbon, and what’s the story behind it? What was your initial motivation to create Ebb Carbon? 

Ben Tarbell: We started about a year ago in February 2021, and our company stems from the broader area of research of Matt Eisaman, Ebb Carbon’s Chief Technology Officer and one of our co-founders. He spent the last decade researching the ocean carbonate system and the role it plays in helping the ocean absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Matt and I met at Google X, where I was leading a team commercializing climate technologies and Matt was a science advisor.

Recently, Matt won a grant from the Grantham Foundation to commercialize some of the work coming out of his lab, which was the inspiration for Ebb Carbon. When Matt got in contact with me,  I put him in touch with our other two co-founders, Dave and Todd, who I’ve also worked with in the past. They started helping him with some of the work on the grant, and then, six months later, we founded the company.

Benjamin Schulz: Could you explain the Ebb Carbon service or product to our readers and how it might be different from other services that are, on the surface, similar?

Ben Tarbell: Ebb Carbon sells the service of removing and storing carbon dioxide from the air. We store this carbon dioxide in the ocean’s natural permanent solution for carbon storage called bicarbonate, significantly accelerating a naturally occurring process that takes place over thousands of years. But while we do it, we also reduce ocean acidification. Bicarbonate is safe, stable, and naturally abundant in the ocean — it’s by far the largest form of carbon storage in the biosphere.

The way Ebb Carbon’s technology works is that our system intercepts salt water flows from industrial facilities that process sea water, like desalination plants. Using our proprietary electrochemical system, we pull acid out of the brine flow and we can sell that acid as a low cost, low carbon replacement for existing commodity acid in industrial markets. When we return the slightly alkaline sea water to the ocean, it reacts with CO2 from the air to form bicarbonate without increasing the ocean’s acidity, and in fact, actually decreasing acidification.

Once the carbon dioxide is converted to bicarbonate, it’s stable for more than 10,000 years, so it’s virtually permanent from the perspective of carbon storage.

Ebb differs from other methods of carbon dioxide removal and sequestration because we use less energy than other methods and so our costs are low. We expect a price of less than $100 per ton in less than five years, and there’s a pathway to $50. Also, we deliver on many other attributes that matter to the emerging carbon markets. We have over 10,000 years of permanence, a pathway to verification, and 100% additionality — meaning that there’s no reason anybody is doing this other than to remove carbon from the atmosphere.  We also have the benefit of reducing ocean acidity.

Benjamin Schulz: Are there any other byproducts like heat or used membranes that you have to take care of, especially once it is at a larger scale?

Ben Tarbell: We don’t heat the water in any appreciable way. Our co-product is the acid that we’re pumping out of the ocean. But it’s essentially a zero cost, zero carbon form of acid, and this can be used to displace existing uses of acid that have a carbon footprint, and so there’s a number of additional potential benefits that that our acid stream can deliver.

Benjamin Schulz: And for broad understanding, who is buying such an acid right now? 

Ben Tarbell: Today it’s the chemical industries, but there’s a long list of buyers. Hydrochloric acid is a commodity used widely across a variety of industries like food processing, agriculture, and more efficient extraction of minerals in mines. There are a number of really interesting potential future use cases around different types of mining systems. As an example, in mining there’s often a waste stream that has valuable ore in it, but it’s not cost effective to extract that ore. The materials found in that ore are crucial to technologies we need to build decarbonizing technologies like electric vehicles and renewable energy generation, and hydrochloric acid can help us extract more out of what’s seen today to be “waste.”

But there’s a long list of other things you could do. If you started with the premise of zero cost, zero carbon acid, there’s a bunch of climate-positive pathways to developing new uses that can scale on the order of many gigatons that are quite interesting to develop.

Benjamin Schulz, CleanTechnica, 13 April 2022. Full article.

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