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Carbontech Development Initiative at Center on Global Energy Policy Selected as Semifinalist for DOE Direct Air Capture Prize

The Carbontech Development Initiative (CDI) at Columbia University SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) was selected as one of the 13 semifinalists for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) American-Made Direct Air Capture (DAC) Pre-Commercial Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Prize. DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM)  announced the prize on Monday, which is given to incubators focused on promoting direct air capture (DAC) technologies that pull carbon dioxide directly out of the air. 

“This is an incredibly exciting moment for the direct air capture space,” said Erik Funkhouser, Managing Director of CDI at CGEP.  “At CDI, we’re dedicated to bridging skills gaps for entrepreneurs and offering resources that shed light on strategic pathways for startups entering the carbon management sector. Because of how quickly this sector has evolved from a scientific concept to multi-billion-dollar industry, there are still significant knowledge gaps, making it an information-scarce environment.”

CDI, a market transformation hub at CGEP sponsored in part by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), provides technology development R&D grants, non-dilutive commercialization grants to early-stage startups, and accelerator training to researchers and innovators in carbon management, including DAC. Additionally, CDI funds research and development within Columbia University, fostering a technical ecosystem capable of delivering lasting market impacts.

For the DAC EPIC Prize, CDI will create and pilot a comprehensive set of innovative commercialization training, educational initiatives, and ecosystem engagement activities specifically tailored to address unique challenges of hard tech sectors like DAC. These are designed to tackle four key challenges within the DAC space:

  1. Overcoming deployment obstacles: DAC startups often face unique commercial deployment hurdles, including regulatory compliance, codes and standards, and project siting issues.
  2. Adapting to a dynamic policy landscape: DAC startups are vulnerable to policy changes and require strategies for navigating shifting revenue and market expectations.
  3. Addressing workforce gaps: Scaling DAC startups necessitates strategies for nurturing an underdeveloped workforce, accounting for competition for specialized labor and long timelines for workforce coordination.
  4. Promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA): The DAC sector currently lacks comprehensive efforts to train workers from adjacent sectors to contribute to DAC advancements, hindering progress toward DEIA goals.

By effectively addressing these challenges, DAC startups can more effectively integrate new sources of knowledge for product-market alignment and strategic development. Moreover, they will gain the ability to collaborate across the sector, particularly concerning public policy, DEIA strategies, and workforce development.

“To meet our net-zero ambitions, we must rapidly commercialize and scale carbon dioxide removal. That is why accelerating the direct air capture industry is so important,” said Brad Crabtree, Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, in a press release on Monday. “The DAC EPIC Prize “Think It” Phase winners have demonstrated a passion and expertise for assisting the transition of direct air capture technologies from an idea to a marketable product through design, industry networking, and business strategy support.”

The DAC EPIC Prize, funded by FECM and managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is divided into three phases and offers up to $3.7 million in awards to selected teams. Semifinalists in this first round have already been awarded $100,000 in cash prizes and are eligible to progress to the competition’s second phase. Successful participants will subsequently proceed to the final phase, where they will vie for the grand prize of $750,000. Further details about the DAC EPIC Prize can be found here.

About the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University

The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA advances smart, actionable and evidence-based energy and climate solutions through research, education and dialogue. Based at one of the world’s top research universities, what sets CGEP apart is our ability to communicate academic research, scholarship and insights in formats and on timescales that are useful to decision makers. We bridge the gap between academic research and policy — complementing and strengthening the world-class research already underway at Columbia University, while providing support, expertise, and policy recommendations to foster stronger, evidence-based policy.

Learn more at www.energypolicy.columbia.edu 

About the Carbontech Development Initiative 

The Carbontech Development Initiation (CDI) at the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University is a first-of-its-kind, large-scale carbontech market transformation grant-seeding and commercialization hub. CDI connects a global ecosystem of academic, philanthropic, business, and government actors to fill related incubation, personnel, and financial gaps, and cultivates informed and active investment, industrial, and policy initiatives. CDI funds research and development (R&D) both within Columbia University and the broader carbontech space to create a technical ecosystem that can achieve durable market impacts.

With support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), CDI will encourage international participation from entrepreneurs and researchers, work to scale-up the demand-side market (investors, buyers, customers,) and enrich state, federal, and international policy ecosystems. CDI aims to catalyze decades-long carbontech market transformation, locking in an upward trajectory for the sector.

Learn more at https://carbontech.columbia.edu/