Startup Of The Week

Startup Of The Week: MCi Carbon

MCi Carbon, a young Australian company, captures emissions from global industries, like steel, cement, fertilizers, and mining,  and uses it to create new products and materials. The approach – which combines carbon capture storage and carbon utilisation, mixes captured CO2 with a mineral feedstock, usually a mineral waste such as steel slag, mine tailings or raw quarried materials, to produce carbonates and silicates that can be used as direct inputs a range of new low carbon construction and building materials, chemicals, cements, concretes and even household consumer products.

The idea is to convert harmful CO2 emissions into a profit center. “We are providing an opportunity for the world’s hard-to-abate sectors to not only decarbonize but also create new business models around their waste materials,” says Sophia Hamblin Wang, the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer.

“We have been working with mining and steel companies all around the world, testing their slags and waste and creating new very good cement products,” says Hamblin Wang.  MCi used a $14.6m Australian Federal government grant to build a demonstration plant. The plant enables its far-flung customers to test – at a distance- how effective the technology will be. “They tell us what is in their exhaust, we simulate their gases and then they send us the rocks or waste; we carbonize it and demonstrate how we can create new materials,” she says.

Customers include Austria’s RHI Magnesita, a global manufacturer of refractory materials, which are used in all high temperature industrial processes, and Japanese construction company Taisei Corporation

As MCi’s first global commercial customer, RHI Magnesita plans to use MCi’s decarbonisation solution to significantly reduce its Scope 1 emissions, Wang said. The Austrian company has made several multi-million dollar investments in MCi. The total amount is not being made public. After successfully conducting tests at MCi’s pilot plant facility in Newcastle, Australia, the global refractory company, which makes bricks to line the kilns used in the steel, cement, aluminum, ceramics and glass industries, has started preliminary engineering work for its first industrial large-scale plant in collaboration with MCi.The decarbonization plant, which will be built in Austria,will use C02 emitted during the brick making process to create magnesium carbonate, which can then use to make new bricks, eliminating the need to mine more minerals. “We are creating a really elegant circular solution for them,” says Hamblin Wang. The first decarbonization plant will be able to abate 50,000 tons of CO2 per year when it goes into operation in 2027-2028. The idea is to increase that amount to 250,000 tons of CO2 or more that will not go into the atmosphere, Wang says, and turn that into saleable products.

In 2022 MCi signed a three-way memorandum of understanding with investor ITOCHU Corporation and Taisei. ITOCHU is investigating various applications of the technology and the coordination of constructing decarbonisation plants and the commercialisation of MCi technology in Japan. These decarbonisation plants are expected to produce several hundred thousand tonnes of  construction materials in Japan by 2027.

MCi’s decarbonization plants are an add-on and require no adjustments to normal operations of customers’ plants, says Hamblin Wang. If cement factories are within a 100-kilometer radius of a refractory, steel plant or some other hard-to-abate sector it is possible to create new profitable revenue streams, she says.

In 2023 MCi received the Circular Transition Award from The Banksia Foundation in Australia which recognizes innovation and leadership through the lens of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2021, MCi won first prize at the Clean Energy Start-up Pitch Battle at COP26 in Glasgow and was featured at the World Economic Forum Pioneers of Change Summit. Other international accolades include the 2018 Resource Innovator of the Year award at the New Materials Summit in Berlin.

Other upstarts offer carbon utilization and low carbon building materials that can help further the circular carbon economy. “We are nothing but supportive of each other,” says Hamblin Wang. “We need thousands of different technologies to get to Net Zero.” That said, Wang says MCi has clear differentiators.  “With our process you can not only make green cement but a variety of other materials; using our technology doesn’t require retooling; we are an add-on that transform emissions into new stuff and we think there are less barriers to adoption if we can transform the emissions directly.  “Our process us low temperature and low pressure and we are also permanent -our process offers 10,000 years of storage,” she says.

Like other clean tech companies MCi, which raised $5 million in funding in 2023 from Japan’s Mizuho Bank, needs commitments from large established companies to scale. It is a member of the World Economic Forum’s First Mover Coalition, a global group of companies that have pledged to leverage their purchasing power to decarbonize the world’s heavy-emitting sectors.

Hamblin Wang says First Mover Coalition pledges are helping send a strong demand signal to the market. “Some middlemen still need to be convinced that their customers will buy things that might cost a little bit more in the short turn, so this is helpful,” she says. “Our main competition is still business as usual: many companies are stuck in the assessment phase, so you get paralysis by analysis.”

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.