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A Sustainable Twist On Carbon Emissions: Podcast With Dioxycle

Each year, 35 gigatons of anthropogenic CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, standing as a major culprit in climate change. But instead of dwelling on the problem, we're turning our attention to tech solutions.

In this podcast episode, we're joined by Dr. David Wakerley, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Dioxycle, a company that stands out for its innovative take on transforming carbon emissions into energy-rich, valuable products. 

By harnessing the principles of low-temperature, efficient electrolysis, Dioxycle has engineered the ideal catalytic environment for emission recycling. This environment not only allows us to bypass the fossil-fuel-driven routes to produce ethylene but does so with minimal energy input, which greatly reduces the cost of the process.

This ethylene can then be used to produce a huge variety of sustainable materials, e-fuels, and chemicals, all of which would be derived from simple emissions, water, and electricity.

Looking toward the future, Dioxycle envisions a world where emissions from industrial processes like fermentation, steel, and cement production are not seen as waste but as valuable resources for a circular economy.

By converting these emissions into a wide range of chemicals, materials, and e-fuels, Dioxycle is pioneering a path toward sustainability and environmental preservation. 


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🎙️ Interview With David

Dunya Jovanovic: Let's start with the big picture. Carbon emissions are a global crisis. How is Dioxycle uniquely positioned to tackle this issue?

David Wakerley: Dioxycle is taking on one of the most challenging yet impactful areas of carbon emissions: the chemical industry. We focus on ethylene production, a cornerstone chemical used to fabricate countless products, from plastics to textiles. Traditional ethylene production is a carbon-intensive process. We've developed a groundbreaking approach that uses electrolysis to convert carbon emissions directly into ethylene, turning a pollutant into a valuable commodity.

DJ: Can you elaborate on the technology behind this transformation?

DW: Our technology centers on a specialized form of electrolysis, enhanced by catalysts we've developed. These catalysts are designed to facilitate the conversion of carbon emissions into ethylene at much lower energy costs than traditional methods. The process involves capturing carbon emissions—either from industrial sources or directly from the atmosphere—and using our electrolyzers to catalyze a reaction that produces ethylene. This not only reduces the carbon footprint of chemical production but also offers a sustainable path forward for the industry.


DJ: Achieving such a technological breakthrough must have involved significant milestones.

DW: One of our earliest and most significant milestones was proving that our technology could scale from laboratory-sized experiments to larger, industrial-relevant scales. We started with experiments on systems the size of postage stamps. Now, we're operating at scales over three thousand times larger. This was a critical step in demonstrating the viability of our technology for industrial applications.


DJ: Scaling up often brings challenges. How did you navigate these waters?

DW: The primary challenge in scaling up was maintaining the efficiency of our electrolyzers. As we scaled, it was crucial to ensure that the energy input translated effectively into ethylene output without compromising cost or sustainability. This required iterative optimization of our catalysts and process conditions, a journey filled with both setbacks and breakthroughs. However, our commitment to continuous innovation has allowed us to improve our system's energy efficiency significantly.


DJ: With such a promising technology, are there collaborations or partnerships that have helped propel your progress?

DW: To date, our focus has been largely on internal development. Given that we are working on an entirely new technology, we've concentrated on proving its efficacy and scalability. However, we're always open to exploring partnerships and collaborations that can help bring our solutions to a wider market and integrate them into existing industrial processes.


DJ: The carbon capture and utilization field is rapidly evolving. Where do you see this sector heading, and what role does Dioxycle play in its future?

DW: The sector's future is bright, driven by technological advances and the increasing need for sustainable solutions. Dioxycle aims to be at the vanguard of this movement, offering a scalable, efficient way to produce ethylene that can significantly reduce the chemical industry's carbon footprint. The key to widespread adoption will be continuing to enhance our technology's efficiency and cost-effectiveness, as well as supportive policies that incentivize carbon capture and utilization.


DJ: As you look forward, what's the vision for Dioxycle? Where do you see the company in the broader landscape of green technology?

DW: Our vision is to revolutionize chemical production, making it cleaner and more sustainable. In the next five years, we aim to deploy our technology across multiple sites, demonstrating its impact on reducing carbon emissions at scale. We envision Dioxycle becoming a key player in the global effort to combat climate change, contributing to a drastic reduction in the chemical industry's carbon emissions.


DJ: For startups and companies inspired by Dioxycle’s mission, what advice can you offer?

DW: The journey in climate technology is challenging but incredibly rewarding. My advice is twofold: focus on developing robust, scalable technology, and build a team that shares your passion and commitment. Innovation is key, but so is resilience. Expect setbacks, learn from them, and continue pushing forward. Surround yourself with a talented team, and together, you can make an impact on our planet's future.

📝 Episode Transcript

Hello, hello, you are watching or listening to a brand new episode of the Green New Perspective Podcast, your go-to place when you want to learn about innovations happening within clean tech, nature tech, biotech and agri-tech space. If you're following the sustainability scene, then I guess you're well aware of the relations between CO2 emissions and climate change. Today we have a guest, his name is David Wakerley.

He's a CTO of a company called Dioxycle, and they're actually harvesting carbon emissions and turning them into valuable products. So if you want to learn how they do that and how their company is operating, stay tuned and meet David.

Hi, and welcome to the Green New Perspective Podcast, David.

Hi, thank you so much. It's an honor to be here.

Can you tell me more about carbon emissions? They're a huge global issue. So how is your company working to address this challenge?

Yeah, of course. So at Dioxycle, we make technologies that can produce sustainable chemicals at affordable prices. And just to give you some context there, production of chemicals, the commodities that we use every day, generates huge volumes of emissions.

We're talking on the millions and millions of tons per year for every given chemical. And what we do at Dioxycle is we find a way to decarbonize the production of one chemical in particular, which is ethylene. So ethylene is the world's most used organic chemical.

It is currently produced through a very carbon intensive process called steam cracking. This is where you take some fossil fuels, you heat them up like crazy, hundreds and hundreds of degrees until you crack the fossil fuels down into something called ethylene. That process produces hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 every year.

What we do at Dioxycle is find a sustainable route to produce that ethylene, so that you no longer rely on that steam cracker, which is responsible for so many emissions. Just to give you an idea of the scale of decarbonization potential, we can achieve by preventing that process, that dirty fossil process. To give you an idea of what we use it for, I take for granted that ethylene is a word I use every day, but maybe most people don't know exactly what we use ethylene for.

It's the most used organic chemical, so it's literally in, I can't say everything, but it's in a lot of your packaging materials are made from ethylene. A lot of textiles, a lot of fibers can be derived from ethylene. You can turn it into pharmaceuticals.

You can turn it into polyvinyl chloride, which is PVC, which is then every single window frame you use, every piece of guttering, every pipe you use in your house that's made of plastic. That comes from ethylene. It's a $180 billion market, just to give you an idea of the ethylene we use every year, that's currently responsible for over 200 million tons of CO2 released.

The goal of the company is if we can decarbonize the production of ethylene, then we can derive all of the products I just mentioned, your textiles, pharmaceuticals, to cause different packaging materials directly from carbon emissions. No longer relying on the fossil industry to produce these things, directly producing these vital chemicals and feedstocks from our, either directly from an emission source, so from a very concentrated source of carbon or eventually from the air, so directly from the carbon we currently have in the air, which is becoming such a problem for the global climate.

We've got a company called Lanzatec, I don't know if you heard about them, they're making ethanol and they are doing carbon recycling. Then they had collabs with brands like Zara, Gucci, made perfumes, clothes, you name it.

I am aware of Lanzatec. We've spoken to the CEO of Lanzatec before, she's an incredible person with really neat technology. You can think of it in a similar way, but whereas Lanzatec, they're using microbes to produce their sustainable ethanol, we're using electrolysis.

You're doing it in more of a chemical engineering sense. We're not using a biological means to produce that chemical where we're designing a electrochemical process, a process that can take electrical energy and convert it into chemical energy in order to do the transformation. The electrolyser, it's normally something I have with me to show you, but it's essentially a series of plates in between each plate is a catalytic core.

The catalytic core is responsible for the transformation of an emission into ethylene. We design catalysts that provide the perfect environment to with very little energy input, convert carbon emissions into ethylene. That's our process.

That's what we design. The way I look at it is it's like an engine, but it does the opposite. An engine takes fuel, it takes oxygen and it produces energy as well as carbon dioxide.

What we do is take carbon emissions, give them energy with our electrolyzer to produce high value chemicals, which are essentially similar to fuel like molecules. I can get way more technical, but I feel like I'd start to bore people.

Can you now tell me about the milestone that you feel like you've achieved since you started the company?

Yeah, of course. We began the company from academia. We were used to academic scales, let's say.

Postage stamp. We'd be writing papers about electrodes around this size. I know this is a podcast, so I shouldn't use my hands.

But let's say postage stamp scale. So very, very small electrodes. In our first year, we took that up to something a bit more akin to a postcard, and then to several of those postcard scales.

Now we're working over 3,000 times larger in scale than the initial scale up. So that was our first major breakthrough. The first milestone we overcame was making sure this technology could work at scale.

And then beyond that, that was a rough couple of years, because it was really fun and engaging, but we worked incredibly hard, let's say. So our ethos was we have a technology to build. The only way to build a technology quickly is to throw yourself at it until you start to have breakthroughs.

And the first 18 months was just overcoming hurdle after hurdle in that scale up. And then beyond that, we've begun to focus on the efficiency, energy efficiency of the electrolyzer is really key to making it work affordably. And so our subsequent milestones have been all about making the catalysts convert carbon emissions into ethylene with as small an energy input as possible.

Where do you feel you had biggest challenges and have you overcome them? And if yes, how?

Great questions. The biggest challenges have always been related to energy efficiency, the energy efficiency of the electrolyzer. So the way we see it is the electrolyzer is basically taking energy, taking electricity and using that electricity to create something more valuable.

If you give me, let's say, $50 worth of electricity, I have to use that $50 worth of electricity to create, let's say, $80 to $100 worth of ethylene. And the more efficient the catalyst, the more ethylene we can make with that electricity. If our catalysts aren't efficient and you give me $50 worth of electricity, I turn that into, let's say, $40 of ethylene.

I don't really have a working business model in that case. All of the challenges have been about increasing the energy efficiency of that process so that we can make as much ethylene per unit of energy we put into the electrolyzer. It's really the team.

It's really the team of process engineers, chemical engineers and chemists, research chemists, all working together, informing each other of what is, isn't possible and supporting each other, essentially throughout that process. It's led to these breakthroughs we've had in energy efficiency.

And did you have any collaborations?

Not right now. No, we kept everything internal. We're still very small as a company.

We obviously are 23 people now between Paris, France and San Francisco, California, or Menlo Park, California to be more precise. To be honest, have been just focused on internal milestones, improving what we've developed so far, pushing the technology to its limit before we begin facing a more external collaborative environment to begin the next stage, which would be the industrialization, commercialization of the technology.

And have you thought about how you're going to promote your product or the services?

We don't do much promotion, let's say, because we are more focused on a few of the biggest emitters in the world, providing the technology directly to them. And that is more about internal discussion and just showing them that we've built a technology that is able to improve their carbon footprint quite drastically, whilst giving them security in their ethnic supply. So we don't really have to do too much promotion, we just have to make the technology work.

And as a company, that's, I think what we strive to do is just prove our message through our technology. If the technology works, it's greener, at the same price as fossil ethylene and easy to operate, then I don't think we have to promote it too much, it should sell itself.

I'm asking that because a lot of my guests here were mentioning that communicating anything about new tech could be a challenge, not just for potential collaborators or partners, but for the investors as well. Because it's much easier that you get, well, it's probably, you know, like a bigger chance is you're going to get investments or partnerships, you have someone on the other side who knows what you're talking about and understands your technology.

Yeah, no, I think you can see from my description of the technology, even on this podcast, it can be very hard to get across the idea in a way that is exciting. And honestly, I understand that, that you really have to, you have to meet your audience halfway, right? You have to be able to explain the technology in a very clear way, explain the chemical engineering breakthroughs in a clear way, which doesn't lose people I mean, even the investors, they are incredibly intelligent people sitting at the boards of these, sitting on the teams of these venture capitalist investors, but they can't know everything.

We have to really explain why the technology is going to be a big deal and why we've been able to make advances without speaking for half an hour. That's a real challenge.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And I hope I'm achieving it here, I'm not sure.

Yeah, you do. And I suppose our audience is already, you know, somewhat introduced to technologies like yours. I've mentioned we had some guests who do a similar type of thing.

So, you know, maybe they'll be interested to explore more about what you're doing. I wanted to ask you, where do you see carbon capturing market and how, like in the next five years, how do you see it evolving?

A good question. I mean, it depends, from my side, on two things. The technological advances.

So that's more from the company side, the companies who are working on carbon capture. We have to make the technology affordable and efficient enough at scale to really provide a working, viable route for a potential client. And then it comes from, as well, the policy side.

We need more attention on policies which encourage the adoption of carbon capture and utilization technologies. I will just quickly add Dioxycle is a carbon utilization company. So the carbon capture part, that is the concentration.

We don't do so much, but in general, the conversation, I think, broadly covers both carbon capture and utilization. We need policy in place that can support the adoption, the rollout of this technology, because there's a cost curve to everything. The cost of producing our technology at this stage is higher than the cost of producing some fossil power technology, some very well-established TRL9 technology.

We can't compete with. So we need policy in place to help us with the rollout in order to basically make us for now competitive with the fossil alternative, which will give us the time we need to bring down all of the costs of our technology, which will eventually allow us to displace that fossil equivalent. And you see that happening?

I see it happening in the US right now. We're still waiting to hear from the EU's response. So Dioxycle is between the US and France.

And so we have one lab in Paris, France, one lab in Menlo Park, California. So we're equally interested in the policy on either side. The EU hasn't provided as clear from our perspective, a guideline for carbon utilization technologies compared to the US.

Because in the US, you have the 45Q tax credit, which gives you a set value for every ton of carbon you utilize. And with that, you can build some very nice financial models, begin to work out exactly where and how you're going to be profitable as a carbon utilization company. In the EU, we don't quite have the mechanisms in place to do that right now.

That's somewhere where as a company, we are trying to, we're currently working on and trying to push as hard as we can, lobby as hard as we can on the European side too. Because again, this global warming, climate change is everybody's problem. So we really need to see the policy in all countries work towards supporting this utilization technology.

Otherwise, we are gonna need more time to get it off the ground.

And if the lobbying part works, where do you see Dioxycle in the next five years? How do you see the company evolving?

Dioxycle right now is in the pre-industrialization stage. So we are validating the final technological milestones we need to achieve in order to say this technology not only is producing sustainable ethylene, but it's producing that ethylene at a price point, which can compete with fossil fuels. At the same time, we're building our first industrial demonstrator of the technology.

So that will be one that will be representative of what the technology is going to look like at the industrial scale. We're working on that right now. We see there will be some bumps in the road along the way, but provided that goes well over the next year or two, we will begin rolling out that technology onto potential client sites, proving the technology works, obviously monitoring that technology in order to continually improve the efficiency of the conversion process until we are, I don't want to say until global domination because it makes us sound evil, but until this technology is really just displacing the fossil alternative.

That's our goal. We want to stop those millions of tons of CO2 emissions every year from ethnic production. And in five years time, if we've got 1% of the way there, we will be very happy because that already represents a huge number of CO2 emissions every year.

Hopefully we're like 100% of the way there, but obviously we have to be realistic with our goals.

If we had a person who wants to start a company and wants to make an environmental impact from what they're doing, what advice would you give to them?

All right, great question. From my side, and I think we touched on it just a second ago, but it's technology and team. Number one, the most important thing for any startup is that you have a technology that is working better than any alternative.

You need to focus on technological development in order to achieve your milestones as you show consistent progress on improving the technology. And in the end, offer technology to decarbonize that really offers a financial advantage. And that's what we've focused on from the very beginning.

And the way you can build a more efficient technology is by hiring an incredible team. And I can't speak highly enough of the team we have at Dioxycle. We, and in particular, my co-founder has been incredible at finding profiles from all over the world and just bringing them into the team at Dioxycle.

And that's key. Having a motivated, skilled, passionate team with a technology that is progressing is a great feeling. Let's put it that way.

It's a roller coaster. There'll be times where it's tough and you have to just push through a number of brick walls head first. And that job, that if I can complete that metaphor, that whole pushing yourself through a wall, is a lot easier when there are 20 of you all pushing in the same direction with all their force compared to you on your own, slamming your head against the wall.

A good team and a good technology is really the key. So make those key hires. Find people who are as passionate about you, maybe people who know things that you don't know about and bring them in, keep them happy, keep them motivated.

And I would say one thing we make a conscious effort to do as well is to be with them in the lab, because being a founder, you can sometimes... You get offered conferences and you'll get offered podcasts. I know I'm speaking on a podcast right now, so I'm a complete hypocrite.

You get offered, it's time consuming. When in reality, what really matters, obviously some promotion of the technology needs to happen and some drumming up investor interest also needs to happen, but the key is to be developing the technology. So prioritizing that development, being with your technical teams, I think is really the piece of advice I would give to anyone looking to do the same thing.

Thank you, David. And my last question for you is, where can people find you, learn more about a company, ping you, send you DMs if they want to learn more about what you're doing, if they want to maybe join a team or have some suggestions. And if you have some communities that you can recommend to our listeners and to other clean tech people who are listening to the podcast as well, Slack communities, Discord communities, website, whatever you know and maybe have been a part of that might be useful for other people in clean tech.

So if you want to find out more about Dioxycle, you can visit our website, There you can find out more about us, the team, the technology we're working on and some of the recent news and hires we've made. We were fortunate enough to be selected in the inaugural cohort of the Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program.

Breakthrough Energy is Bill Gates' venture capital company who are devoting themselves to funding projects which are able to decarbonize over 500 million tons of CO2 every year. And the Fellows Program is a really great starting place, starting point for any company looking to get a climate innovation off the ground, out of the lab scale into a real company. So there's a really strong community there, which I would encourage anyone with a new idea to look into and apply to.

There's also My Climate Journey is a podcast, which is very, very good for finding out new ideas. Obviously, there's this podcast that I will plug, so I'm not sure if that, I'm not sure. All podcasts are equal.

I didn't want to plug one over the other. And in general, it's been really useful for us is just as soon as you get into the climate tech conference space, you'll meet a number of other equally enthusiastic founders. The perfect peers to have in this environment, because being in a startup is the beginning of a startup in particular is incredibly hard.

And you're having problems that most people haven't faced before. It isn't something you'll find a YouTube tutorial that can solve. And just going to the conferences, like for example, the RPE is a conference in the US ran by the DOE that is full of founders looking for government funding, looking for government contacts.

And that's a great community to get involved with. But I was formerly a researcher at Stanford and they also have an incredible community over there who are all looking at new ways, new technologies to decarbonize. And I recommend anyone there going to the, looking at some of their publicly available resources, some of their lectures that they have there are from founders or from climate visionaries who are really pushing the boundaries of what is possible with climate tech.

So I think I couldn't recommend that space enough.

Thank you, David. This was great.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Well, we've come to an end of this episode of the Green New Perspective podcast. Sponsored by New Perspective, a Boston-based marketing agency working with clean tech clients only. If you want to learn more about our sponsor, check out the info in the description of this episode.

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