In this interview, we’ll learn about Alisha’s journey to climate and founding Seabound, pathways to decarbonizing the shipping industry, Seabound’s carbon capture technology, and Alisha’s tips for securing the first LOIs from customers.
Seabound is a UK-based startup building mobile carbon capture equipment for ships.
Seabound’s carbon capture equipment sits adjacent to the ship’s funnel and captures up to 95% of the CO2 from the exhaust. Read more about their technology later in this article.
🧠Wisdom from Alisha
What’s the founding story of Seabound?
I’ve spent the past few years trying to educate myself about the climate crisis and figuring out how to have maximum impact in tackling it. One area of focus was to identify sub-sectors that are lagging behind in decarbonization efforts, sometimes referred to as “hard-to-abate” sectors, and I learned that the shipping industry is one of those.
At the same time, I began working with a couple of climate tech startups on the side of my day job to continue educating myself and to support their efforts. One of these startups develops an alternative fuel (electro-methanol) for the shipping industry. This provided me with direct exposure to the world of shipping and revealed that: 1) shipping is indeed hard-to-abate and has not figured out how to reduce its emissions yet, and 2) capturing CO2 has value as a feedstock in alternative fuel production.
The shipping industry’s decarbonization efforts are focused on building new efficient, electric ships and on sustainable fuels. Building new ships is extremely capital intensive, and the production of sustainable fuels at scale is 10-20 years away.
That’s when I thought applying carbon capture technology in a new application (shipping) could be a promising moonshot idea.
What pathways do we have for decarbonizing the shipping industry?
Decarbonizing shipping requires a portfolio of different solutions. There are broadly five ways to decarbonize ships:
1. Slowing down the ship
This simple act of slowing down the ship reduces fuel consumption and, thus, CO2 emissions. While this act of reducing emissions is simple, it is not practical and competitive.
Slowing down the ship would cause disturbances in the supply chain and would not be a competitive solution.
2. Increasing the energy efficiency
The energy efficiency of ships can be increased mainly with the help of software and equipment upgrades. For example, voyage optimization software can pick the best route for the ship based on the weather forecast. These approaches include also installing advanced propellers and rotors or coating the ship in low-friction paint.
Energy efficiency measures, however, can only reduce 5-10% of shipping’s CO2 emissions.
3. Alternative propulsion
Alternative propulsion includes electrification. This is a strong option for smaller ships, ferries, and tug boats.
Electrifying long-distance boats, unfortunately, is far from feasible with today’s battery technology.
Additionally, utilizing wind-assist technology such as kites, sails, and flettner rotors can leverage the wind to propel the ship. This can reduce the amount of fuel required by up to 10-20% but, unfortunately, cannot sufficiently power large ships.
The challenge with alternative fuels is that they are still 10-20 years from production at scale. Using alternative fuels in ships also requires installing new engines to ships costing millions of dollars. Installing new engines for old ships closer to the end of their lifecycle doesn't make financial sense.
Furthermore, ammonia, one of the most viable shipping fuels, has safety concerns, as it is highly toxic for humans.
5. Carbon capture
Finally, carbon capture equipment can be installed nearby ships’ funnels to capture CO2 at point-of-source from their exhaust.
In the short term, carbon capture will help to decarbonize shipping quickly and at scale, as it can be retrofitted onto existing ships. As carbon capture equipment is a relatively low-capital option, it can also be installed economically on older ships to decarbonize them.
In the longer term, carbon capture can help build a circular economy in the shipping industry. The captured CO2 can be used as feedstock to produce alternative fuels like methanol.
How did you choose your carbon capture technology?
When I got the idea of applying carbon capture technology for shipping, I reached out to my friend from the university, Roujia Wen, now Co-Founder and CTO of Seabound.
We surveyed all available carbon capture technologies to make an educated decision. We gathered information on each technology’s maturity level as well as advantages and disadvantages. We also researched their suitability for the shipping industry. For example, some carbon capture methods require a lot of energy, which is not feasible onboard a ship.
After this literature review, we interviewed numerous experts in these carbon capture technologies. Finally, we checked what carbon capture technologies other companies were trying out in the shipping industry and what their learnings were.
We decided to take a solid-sorbent approach and use lime (calcium oxide) as the chemical agent capturing carbon.
How does your solid-sorbent approach with lime work?
We use lime (calcium oxide, CaO) as the chemical agent for capturing CO2.
Lime reacts with CO2 and produces limestone (calcium carbonate, CaCO3). Limestone is a solid material and a permanent way of storing CO2.
We install our carbon capture device adjacent to a ship’s funnel and capture the CO2 from the exhaust.
The CO2 gets captured in carbonates, which we can then easily unload at the dock.
We can either leave the CO2 “locked-in” as limestone and sell the limestone, for example, as building materials. Alternatively, we can run the opposite reaction on land to re-separate the CO2 from the lime. We can sell the CO2 as feedstock (e.g., for synthetic fuel companies) or for geological sequestration and then use the lime again in our process to capture more CO2.
What are the advantages of your technology approach?
There were three key reasons why we decided to choose a solid-sorbent approach with lime for our carbon capture:
1. Low onboard energy consumption
Our approach doesn’t require separating the CO2 from lime nor compressing and liquefying the CO2 onboard, which saves a lot of energy.
2. Easy to scale
Our process produces carbonates that are solid. Therefore, we can use the existing offloading and transportation infrastructure for solid materials at the portside and don’t have to wait for CO2 transportation/pipeline infrastructure to be built.
We can decouple the processing of carbonates. We can do part of the processing on the ship and some on land, where it can occur in larger land-based facilities to leverage economies of scale.
What has been your approach to working with shipping customers?
We have used a combination of approaches to reach relevant customers: 1) Cold outreach and 2) Industry-specific accelerator.
We’ve done a fair amount of cold outreach to shipping companies. I have been positively surprised by the response rate.
Last year, we joined the Eastern Pacific Accelerator by Techstars. Eastern Pacific is one of the world’s largest shipping companies. Participating in this accelerator provided us with numerous warm intros to potential customers.
When we started talking to customers, we didn’t know whether our approach was at all viable. We went into the conversations with an open mind. We tried to actively understand the customers’ challenges, priorities, decarbonization strategies, and decision processes.
We didn’t have much experience in shipping when we started. Luckily, different stakeholders in the shipping industry have been very eager to provide feedback.
We have developed what feels almost like mentoring relationships with some stakeholders at shipping companies. These companies have seen our progress to date and gotten to know our team. This has helped us to secure six LOIs from customers.
What are your next milestones at Seabound? How can Survivaltech.club readers be helpful on your journey?
Our next milestones are 1) building and testing our second prototype and 2) preparing for the first ship-based pilot in 2023.