Meet the Sustainability Wizards at 44.01

Meet the Sustainability Wizards at 44.01 

44.01’s Karan Khimji explains how the startup is bringing a groundbreaking solution in the race to Net Zero, SDG goals, and carbon neutrality, thanks to CO2’s pure and simple elimination.

For centuries, alchemists tried to turn lead into gold – and failed. 44.01, however, succeeds in doing something apparently as impossible. Named after the molecular mass of CO2, the Oman-based company, part of Hub71, turns carbon into rock. You read this right. 44.01 developed a proprietary technology that permanently, safely, quickly, and cost-effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere through the natural process of mineralisation. We sat with Chief Commercial Officer and co-founder Karan Khimji to learn more.

What led you to establish 44.01?

I grew up in Oman and spent my childhood on the beaches and the coastline, where I started noticing the impacts of climate change. As I moved into my career, I worked in renewable funds, consulting on energy transition strategies. That led me to realising that Net Zero couldn’t happen just from energy transition. What about all the CO2 that has already been emitted into the atmosphere, continues to be emitted, and can’t be eliminated from just moving energy sources? That eventually led me to looking at CO2 as a resource.

My co-founder Talal [Hasan, CEO], was also shifting gears in his career, looking at investing in climate tech companies to help the region transition and decarbonise. He had helped set up the venture capital arm of the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Oman and had tried to get me to work there for quite a while, but I had I had no intention of returning to the Middle East until I could find a way to plug myself into the energy transition ecosystem. So, we started talking.

How did you develop this unique mineralisation technology?

Talal stumbled upon research done by two scientists in Oman, Professors Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter – whom we call the godfathers of mineralisation. They had observed that peridotite, a common rock in the Hajar mountain range that is normally part of the ocean crust but had been thrust up onto the surface through tectonic activity, naturally absorbs CO2 dissolved in rainwater and converts it into inert minerals, immobilising that CO2 in solid form forever. It acts like a massive forest, except that it actually eliminates CO2 from existence rather than having the potential to burn out and rerelease it, as we have seen with wildfires.

That mineralisation process is very slow, but the scientists theorised that it could be accelerated. Talal and I reached out to them, and we created a founding team with Juerg and Ehab Tasfai, our CTO. The company was founded in 2020 out of the pandemic –  born from crisis to tackle crisis, as we like to say – and we received our first permit from the Omani government to run an R&D test in 2021. We then conducted multiple pilot injection tests between 2021 and 2023, sourcing CO2 from both atmospheric capture and industrial emissions.

We’re now in the process of publishing our findings in scientific publications and we’re working on a scaled-up demonstration in Fujairah alongside ADNOC.

How will your business solution work?

We haven’t started commercialisation yet, but we approach industrial emitters – hard to decarbonise industries, like cement and steel production, that need technological solutions to become Net Zero – and partner with direct carbon-capture companies.

We eliminate the CO2 they hand over to us and then verify, quantify, and validate that it’s gone for verification companies that generate carbon credits. That credit is then sold or used by whatever company that wants to claim one unit of decarbonisation.

Some players have tried to incentivise the creation of a buyer market – mainly tech companies like Stripe, Shopify, and Microsoft willing to buy credits in advance from rigorously vetted technology providers that can deliver carbon removal to them in the future.  We have pre-sold credits to these companies and now effectively have a form of carbon credit debt that we’re going to pay back as we develop our tech. It brings commercial validation, which is very important.

We’re following the same model that the renewable energy industry uses. We form a project company with partners with a lot of experience in building massive infrastructure projects, like ADNOC. That project company sells off long-term offtake contracts for the credits that are going to be generated over an X number of years. We then build the project and deliver the contract over that X number of years.

What horizon are you considering for commercialisation?

A lot of learnings are coming out of our projects and changing our timeline constantly. We’re hoping to have a product that we can take the market, which can scale and deliver hundreds of thousand, if not millions of tonnes of mineralisation by 2027-2028. At that point, we’ll be ready to sign 10- or 20-year long term offtake agreements.

How has your technology been received so far?

Very positively. Unlike conventional storage techniques, we actually eliminate CO2 from existence, which provides security and certainty to the communities, to the credit buyers, and to various other stakeholders in our ecosystem.

And we’ve won two awards that involve scientists vetting our tech: the XPrize Milestone Award from Elon Musk and the Earthshot Prize Award from Prince William’s Royal Foundation.

One of the unique aspects about our tech is that we’re homegrown in the Middle East and we can now take it to the world, unlike many others in the past that have been imported into our region. This is really exciting for us and our partners. I’m not saying that we solve climate change today – there’s a whole host of solutions, people, and minds that need to come together to solve this problem. But there’s one galvanising factor that brings people together: we’re doing it for our children and that drives me every day.

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