Unpublished, Unpatented, but not Unimportant: C12 Energy May Use the Ocean to Capture CO2

I’ve realized that limiting my posts to subjects for which there is publicly available intellectual property to discuss sometimes causes me to pass on reporting important technology. 

Thus, a new series – “Unpublished, Unpatented, but not Unimportant” – in which I will periodically report on clean technology developments for which I can’t locate a published patent application (in the U.S., patent applications are published 18 months after they are filed) or an issued patent. 

C12 Energy (C12) is a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup that recently secured a $4.5 million round of funding led by Sequoia Capital.  C12 has not made its plans public, but an article by the company’s president and chief scientist published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology is fueling speculation about a grand plan for carbon capture and sequestration.

Kurt Zenz House’s article, entitled “Electrochemical Acceleration of Chemical Weathering as an Energetically Feasible Approach to Mitigating Anthropogenic Climate Change,” describes a process of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by enhancing the solubility of carbon dioxide in the ocean.

House’s approach involves boosting the alkalinity of the ocean by electrochemically removing its hydrochloric acid and neutralizing the acid through reactions with silicate minerals.  The increase in alkalinity enhances the ocean’s ability to take up atmospheric CO2.  

Carbon dioxide will then dissolve into the ocean and be stored as bicarbonate ion “without further acidifying the ocean.”  According to the article, over time the carbon will be permanently stored in the ocean:

On timescales of hundreds of years or longer, some of the additional alkalinity will likely lead to precipitation or enhanced preservation of CaCO3, resulting in the permanent storage of the associated carbon, and the return of an equal amount of carbon to the atmosphere.

The article explains that the method is “equivalent to the electrochemical acceleration of the Earth’s natural chemical weathering process.” 

I spoke to Dr. House today and asked him if he has filed a patent application on the process.  He told me that C12 is in stealth mode and he couldn’t comment on the company’s IP strategy.  Given the article’s internet publication date of November 7, 2007, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a patent application publish some time between now and early May.

Dr. House has a Ph.D. in Geoscience from Harvard University (see his homepage here).

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Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.