Remora Bets on Mobile Carbon Capture for Semitrucks

A Detroit-based startup named Remora is piloting a device that captures carbon emissions from semitrucks—hard-to-electrify vehicles that account for approximately 5% of U.S. carbon emissions.

The technology is designed to capture 80% of emissions from a truck’s tailpipe, a more energy-efficient system than removing carbon from the atmosphere, something that many other startups are trying to do but which has not been done on a large scale.

Remora was born in 2020 when Paul Gross came across a dissertation in which Christina Reynolds, who was then working for the Environmental Protection Agency, devised a system to capture emissions from moving trucks. Gross and Reynolds joined forces with Eric Harding, a mechanical engineer with a background in trucks, to develop the device. The three are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Remora, which describes itself as the world’s “first and only” mobile carbon capture company.

Their technology could help transportation companies reduce emissions while they transition to electric trucks, which have yet to be widely adopted due to range limitations, scarcity of superchargers, and lack of models. Major truck makers such as Daimler, MAN, Renault, Scania, and Volvo have announced plans to electrify their lineups but are not yet producing electric trucks on a large scale.

Treehugger recently talked with Gross about Remora’s past, present, and future:

Treehugger: To start with, can you explain how your device works?

Paul Gross: The device goes on the back of the truck, it attaches to the tailpipes. It fits within the normal footprint of any semitruck and it doesn’t interfere with the turning radius of the trailer. The exhaust basically flows through this absorbent bed that selectively captures the carbon dioxide molecules and lets the harmless nitrogen and oxygen flow right out into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is stored onboard the truck and needs to be offloaded periodically. Offloading is an incredibly easy process. The driver just pulls up to an offload tank, attaches a hose to the device, and pumps the carbon dioxide out into the tank. The whole thing takes 10 minutes.

How often does it need to be offloaded?

Our first-generation device has a range of about 500 miles and our second-generation device will have a range of about 1,000 miles.

What do you do with the carbon dioxide?

We’re focused on partnerships with companies that help us to permanently take carbon dioxide out of circulation. Concrete producers are a great example. If you take the carbon dioxide and inject it into the concrete during the curing process, it makes the concrete stronger and permanently sequesters the carbon dioxide. In the future, we plan to sequester the carbon dioxide underground in depleted oil wells or saline aquifers.

I understand that you could potentially turn some of that carbon dioxide into fuel, is that right?

Yes, one exciting potential future solution would be to work with one of the companies that are turning carbon dioxide into fuel like LanzaTech or Twelve. The idea is that if we can use renewable energy to turn carbon dioxide back into diesel and put it back in the truck, then we’d be effectively electrifying the truck. That’s assuming that we get our device from 80% to 99% capture, which we think we can do over the next couple of years.

Given that semitrucks travel throughout the continental United States, I imagine that one of the biggest challenges will be to install offloading stations across the country.

For sure. Tesla has installed 25,000 supercharges across the U.S. so there’s some precedent for this, and this is a lot easier than installing electric chargers because they are just off-the-shelf carbon dioxide tanks. So, yeah, we’ll definitely be rolling out offload tanks at distribution centers and truck stops all across the country.

Critics would say that this device could allow transportation companies to do greenwashing because the most effective way to fight climate change is to eliminate fossil fuels altogether rather than capturing carbon. What would you say to them?

I think that where we can electrify, we absolutely should but it is dangerous to think that electrification will be a silver bullet. It’s gonna be really, really hard to electrify long haul airplanes, long haul trucking, cargo ships … there’re some sectors that because of the weight of the battery, electrification is just not gonna work. This is just a complementary solution. We want to use mobile carbon capture where electrification isn’t possible.

Have you already tested the device in commercial trucks?

Our first pilots start in about a month. We have pilots slated for all of 2022 and they will run for the whole year so that we can go into commercialization in 2023. That’s when we’ll really be ramping up production.

Can you tell me more about the companies you will be working with and how many trucks you will be testing the device on?

Our very first pilot is with Ryder [a Florida-headquartered transportation company with a fleet of over 200,000 vehicles]. So, you know, one of the largest owners of trucks in the world but unfortunately I can’t say the exact number of trucks we will be piloting this year.

How are you funding yourselves?

We went through Y Combinator [which helps early startups secure funding], raised a $5.5 million seed round and we’ve now signed up a bunch of fleets for pilots. We’re working with big Fortune 100 companies like Ryder and Cargill, and we’re facing a ton of demand, which is really exciting.

Can you tell me more about your investors?

Our seed round was extremely oversubscribed. The leads of the round were Chris Sacca’s fund, which is exclusively focused on decarbonization, Union Square Ventures, which is also focused on climate, and First Round Capital; the partner there is Bill Trenchard, who spends a lot of time on climate. We’re basically working with climate-focused venture capital.

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