Carbon removal

Captura taps utility, aviation partners for direct ocean capture

The startup added National Grid Partners and Japan Airlines to close out a $45 million Series A.

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A Captura direct ocean capture system set up on a ship.

Photo credit: Captura

A Captura direct ocean capture system set up on a ship.

Photo credit: Captura

Direct ocean capture startup Captura has added National Grid and Japan Airlines to its list of financial backers, rounding out a $45.3 million Series A, the company said yesterday.

  • The top line: The funding, of which nearly $10 million comes from this latest addition, will help Captura speed the process of driving proprietary electrodialysis tech into the field, and begin engineering activities associated with the company’s first commercial plant, expected to come online in late 2026.
  • The nuts and bolts: Captura’s process pulls ocean water into a plant and uses electrodialysis to split and rearrange molecules into an acid (hydrochloric acid) and a base (sodium hydroxide.) The acid is then added back into ocean water passing through the plant, converting dissolved inorganic carbon naturally present in seawater into dissolved CO2 gas, which is captured and can be stored or used to make products like synthetic fuels. Finally, the sodium hydroxide is added back in, neutralizing the water before it exits the plant and returns to the ocean, where it will naturally draw more CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • The current take:  Captura CEO Steve Oldham said the round is the largest Series A in direct ocean capture to date, and is an indicator of the maturation and diversification of the carbon removal industry. “The financial markets are now seeing that there’s definitely a market here that is emerging in carbon removal,” Oldham said. “From a pure investment point of view, we’re beginning to see that these can be good bets.”

Captura currently has two pilot programs up and running in California, and is in the process of bringing online a 1,000 ton plant in Norway, which will serve as the company’s final research and development testing facility before commercial scale. 

The Norway pilot is unique, Oldham said, in that it’s being funded outside of the Series A. Multinational energy company Equinor, which is also a part of the series, is funding that pilot as part of a partnership with Captura to which the companies have committed an initial $15 million (with Equinor taking the majority share.) The facility will be located on one of Equinor's natural gas processing facilities.

“Most companies have to raise for pilots as well,” Oldham said. But since the Equinor project won’t pull from the company’s $45 million pool, this round should give the company two years of runway, taking it right up to commercial scale launch, he added.

Source: Captura
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A faster path to affordable CDR?

Despite sustained interest and investments from Big Tech, carbon removal broadly has remained an expensive and relatively small-scale endeavor, far off of the DOE’s $100 per ton goal and the IPCCs goal of up to 10 gigatons of removal by 2050. 

Direct air capture, though attracting more attention than many other removal pathways, is particularly expensive and energy intensive. But Oldham, who was previously CEO at Carbon Engineering, the DAC company acquired by Occidental Petroleum last summer, said ocean capture is an inherently lower-cost, easier to scale solution.

That’s in part because it doesn’t require pricey sorbents, and because ocean water holds around 150% more CO2 in volume than air, Oldham explained. “We move a lot less ocean water than DAC companies move air, and the ocean already moves,” he added. Plus, Captura’s process doesn’t require baseload power — the systems can power up and down quickly, working with intermittent renewable energy.

The company’s approach also relies on existing infrastructure, like offshore platforms, which makes deployment faster, Oldham added.

That’s been the focus of the Series A, he explained: getting backers who can help Captura deploy and scale. That’s how companies like Maersk, Eni, and EDP Group came on board.

Captura wasn’t actually planning to expand its Series A when it was approached by National Grid Partners and Japan Airlines, but both the utility and aviation industries are key partners and future customers, Oldham said.

Energy infrastructure companies are interested in ocean capture in part because of its ability to utilize off-peak and intermittent energy, he added. “Energy utilization companies are interested in us for that reason — the opportunity to use energy when other people don’t want it.”

Aviation, on the other hand, is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize, and the potential to offset carbon footprints or to make synthetic fuel is an attractive one to those companies. “I like having a major international airline showing their interest,” Oldham said. “They know that down the line they’re going to be a customer. That’s the thinking on the investment across the whole of the Series A.”

Ultimately, this somewhat unexpected additional funding will help Captura move faster than expected toward commercialization, by speeding up the production of its proprietary tech. (Oldham said Captura’s form of electrodialysis is up to ten times more efficient than what’s on the market today.)

The decision to hold off on commercial scale until Captura’s in-house tech is ready to roll is a bit of a balancing act, Oldham added; if the company builds a plant sooner, with off-the-shelf tech, the cost is higher, and potentially scares off customers. On the other hand, waiting until the technology is fully proven and built drastically slows down the timeline to commercialization.

“We’re racing to do that as fast as we can,” he added. “That’s why we raised more funding. We decided to take the investment and drive faster and harder.”

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