2020 was the warmest year in history. And it goes without saying that this is a big deal.
Every tenth of a degree closer we get to reaching the “tipping point” of 1.5 ºC, we’re locking ourselves in for a ride to a world with more frequent extreme weather events, water scarcity, crop failure, — you get the gist.
At this point, it’s fair to say that we’re all painfully aware of the frightening reality that awaits us if we don’t take action. It’s also fair to say that the global community is in fact taking action.
But with such a multi-faceted issue like climate change, only one answer won’t do— yet, all around us, we see a common theme: as global warming is caused by excess entrapment of heat in our atmosphere, which is in turn caused by greenhouse gases, we should center all our efforts on addressing the most abundant greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide.
Interestingly enough, this may not be as logical as previously thought.
Because all this time, we’ve been letting a greenhouse gas that has 84 times the global warming potential go unnoticed.
And behind the scenes, let’s just say it’s doing a lot of damage (and not just to farmers every time cows burp)…
If you haven’t already guessed — it’s methane.
Ever since pre-industrial times, methane emissions have risen by over 2.5-fold, and this trend will likely continue — and because of its ability to absorb significantly more solar radiation than CO2, methane is responsible for nearly one-third of global warming.
In fact, according to the IPCC, the current anthropogenic methane emissions trajectory is estimated to lie between the two warmest IPCC-AR5 scenarios, i.e., RCP8.5 and RCP6.0, corresponding to temperature increases above 3°C by the end of this century.
Along with environmental damage, methane emissions also cause, on average around 15% of crop yield losses and more than 1 million premature deaths per year. Clearly, as methane emissions rise, the social, economic, and environmental cost of methane is becoming increasingly evident.
Considering the fact that methane accounts for just under one-sixth of our global emissions, this paints a pretty good picture as to how ridiculously harmful and how important it is to cut down on these emissions. But with methane, it’s not so easy.
Prevention Alone Won’t Do
Among the top six causes of methane, natural processes account for more than half of all methane emitted. For example, in the wetlands, which account for a staggering 22% of all emissions, soil microbes produce methane, which is then exchanged with trees and other plants and subsequently released into the atmosphere through diffusion, plant tissue, and in rare cases, gas bubbles.
As this process is a response to changes in temperature and climatic conditions like rainfall, it is expected that these emissions will rise as the climate warms.
On the other hand, anthropogenic sources of methane are dominated by the oil and gas industry, where methane leaks, or “fugitive emissions”, pose an invisible but harmful threat to our atmosphere.
While regulatory measures and prevention strategies are still an important step to take, even they can only help to a certain extent.
For example, one paper states that “A recent marginal cost-abatement curve for methane in the oil and gas sector estimated that almost half of methane emissions could be mitigated at no net cost; however, abatement costs rose steeply beyond that point.”
All of this makes it evident that if we want to get anywhere with extreme global warming prevention, we need to think bigger, broader, and better to come up with a viable solution — so that’s what our team did.
Why aren’t we already addressing this?
What with the emerging trend of carbon capture technology, it may come as a surprise that its methane equivalent is not yet out there. As they’re both greenhouse gases lurking around in the air, the difference between capturing CO2 vs CH4 should seemingly be insignificant. In reality, this has been one of the biggest challenges in creating methane capture technology.
Carbon capture methods just don’t work for methane.
And to understand why this is, we’ll have to get into chemistry — aka, our favourite thing to do.
Taking a look at the Lewis structure of both the methane and carbon dioxide molecule, the black dots representing valence electrons, it can be seen that there is one big difference in their electron configurations. In methane, or CH4, the electrons are localized — meaning that they belong to only the carbon and hydrogen atoms. This adds up, as localized electrons occur in molecules with covalent bonds (which hydrogen has four of)!
These C-H bonds are extremely stable because of the similar electronegativity of carbon and hydrogen. In other words, as neither of them have a higher tendancy than the other to attract the electrons, their bond is very strong, and thus, hard to break.
On the other hand, the carbon in CO2 has a lower electron density than the oxygen atoms, causing a split in the electron densities. With these pockets of heavily concentrated electrons, it makes it much easier to find a point to enter and begin a reaction.
This makes for an unfortunate reality:
- Due to the electron configuration as well as its unusual, tetrahedral shape, CH4 molecules lack an obvious point of catalytic entry *
- Current amine solvents and acid– base reactions used in carbon capture cannot apply to methane, as they lack sufficient CH4 affinity
- CO2 is much easier than CH4 to capture
* Think of it like this: both molecules have their own security systems — but while CO2 sets up most of the electro-guards on either end, leaving the carbon open for intrusion, methane did a much better job of strategically protecting itself against any threats.
Though these challenges are surely no easy task to overcome, we believe that roadblocks are simply an indication that a better future lies ahead — and using this mentality, we’re attacking these challenges head-on using a group of materials called zeolites.
Zeolites are a unique kind of mineral that contain nano-sized cavities, or “pores”, which make them ideal for a variety of applications, particularly the adsorption of tiny molecules. Coupled with a metal such as iron or copper, they can also act as effective catalysts.
Aside from their favourable sorption capacities, zeolites also have a high CH4/CO2 selectivity, and a higher density of active sites thanks to their high surface areas, creating a welcoming environment for important reactions.
Coincidentally, zeolites are also composed of a framework of linked tetrahedra. These frameworks are composed of ring structures — and this ring structure decides the size of the pores. For example, zeolites with 12-membered rings will have big pores and 8-membered rings will have smaller ones, with the latter being better for reactions, as excessively big pores will inhibit the methane from interacting with all the walls at once.
On the other hand, some zeolites even have cages that have spheres that can tightly encapsulate molecules. Therefore, we’ll be using a small-pored, copper or iron zeolite with 8-membered rings, that have cages. This will result in a more stable reaction.
But enough with the detail already, let’s get to the juicy part…what we do.
At its core, the goal of our solution goal is to fulfill our vision.
A world where global warming is no longer a threat, where humans and the natural world live in harmony.
Let’s dive in.
Pinoeering the first large-scale, DAC methane removal facility
Think about this: climate change could stop being the bane of our existance as a species, all thanks to a giant array of electric fans full of zeolites.
At Zeo4, we’re trying to bring this crazy possibility to life.
The way we want to do so may seem a little bit off — but hear us out.
We’re going to capture and convert methane into CO2.
Now, I don’t blame you if you think that this is illogical. After all, isn’t CO2 the enemy? Well, yes — it’s just that CH4 is 84 times worse!
That’s exactly why it makes sense to convert one to the other: in doing so, we’re reducing the gas’s global warming potential by 90%.
In addition, althoough it may come as surprising, this process is what happens in the atmosphere anyway.
Hence, our solution only accelerates a natural process, for the greater good. In fact, we estimate we’ll be able to spare our atmosphere of over 2000 tonnes of methane by the end of 2025.
Our differentiated benefits
Tackling climate change is no easy task — which is why we knew that, in order to make an impact, we would need to think big.
So what sets us apart from other solutions?
Key highlight: no other solution like Zeo4 is on the market.
I kid, I kid… (well, not really, but moving on) Today, there are a select few solutions that address atmospheric methane. They include creating landfill biogas and using excess methane from oil&gas to power data centers.
While effective, these solutions aren’t good enough — because, with over 50% of methane emissions being caused by natural sources, there’s a whole lot being left untouched.
Zeo4 can change that, as our solution works for a wide variety of cases.
And to address one FAQ we get, our solution is significantly better than gas flares. Gas flaring refers to the combustion of associated gas generated during various processes in the oil & gas industry. In many scenarios, one gas that is frequently released by this means is natural gas, containing mostly methane.
Although this process can seem alike to ours, it is far from so. While gas flares can destroy livlihoods, polluting air, contaminating water and land, and causing several other adverse efffects, Zeo4’s air fans will prevent atmospheric methane from doing damage at all.
Whereas gas flares let it rip, we’re trapping the methane and putting an end to CH4-induced global warming.
Finally, if there’s one thing that is of utmost importance to us, it’s that we stay aligned with our mission. And what we quickly realized is that the solutions that exist today don’t have the environment at their heart at all.
While using methane to create energy or other products is better than the status quo, we want to ensure that what we’re doing is not for the sake of profit, but rather to solve the problem.
So instead, we came up with an alternative way to keep our core mission and values at our solution’s heart, benefiting our planet while never losing sight of the people.
But enough said, let’s get into the how it works!
- Methane flows into the air fan
- CH4 molecules get trapped in the zeolite pores (got you, sucka!)
- The metal-containing zeolite catalyst takes the hydrogen atom off of the methane *, resulting in a much more reactive methyl radical
- The methyl radical is oxidized to methanol
- Utilizing methane– methane interactions in the cavities, the methanol is fully oxidized to CO2
*❓ Why does this work ❓
Why, you may ask, can zeolites work their oh-so wonderful magic on the methane molecule and activate its bond?
The answer has to do with its orbitals — but in case you don’t know what those are, here’s a quick rundown.
Prepare for round two of this science show; it’s time for physics.
In Rutherfords’ time, we used to believe that the electron orbits the atom like the earth orbits the sun. and while there’s still a lot that it painfully unknown in the realm of physics, we know this: electrons sure don’t move like that.
In fact, the electron acts like a wave: you can’t tell its exact location, but you can decipher the volume that it occupies.
These volumes have really funny shapes. They’re called orbitals.
Put simply, an orbital is a three-dimensional description of the most likely location of an electron around an atom. As per our understanding, there are four types of orbitals (s, p, d, f) with unique shapes, each one being based on the energy of its electrons.
An iron zeolite, for example, has one iron atom tied to one oxygen atom, forming an iron-oxygen bond. This bond is extremely short, and when it approaches the C-H bond of methane, it can take the hydrogen atom off of the methane.
This ties back to iron’s orbitals. As all transition metals do, iron has d-orbitals, which are high-energy, active orbitals. This means that the orbitals are only partially occupied.
As seen in this diagram, iron has 26 electrons, 6 of which are contained in the d-orbital. However, d-orbitals can hold a maximum of ten electrons — leaving some extra room for some more electrons.
This is great for the methane (or rather, not so great) because this allows for an interaction between the iron and oxygen which in turn allows the oxygen to have a good overlap with the methane orbitals and break the C-H bond.
Our Mission + Values
Frustration stemming from the countless times we’ve seen companies announce their grand and green schemes (minus the results and the action) was one of the main reasons that we founded Zeo4.
And on that note, our promise to you is to live up to our 5 key values.
Transparency. Harmony. Accountability. Thinking big. Transformational impact. (learn more here)
Left unaddressed, rising methane emissions will negate any of the progress we make on our climate targets.
But with Zeo4, we can bridge the reality of today and our goals for tomorrow, to safely and effectively mitigate this risk, allowing for humanity to bounce back from one of today’s most trying crises. Though we’re only at the beginning of our journey, change is in the air — and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that methane isn’t accompanying it!
Meet the Founders
Hi there! We’re so excited to have you here. Thank you for sharing the excitement of getting our company off the ground, and we hope you continue to follow us on our journey.
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