At the time, the team at Charm began testing their first scaled pyrolyzer, a machine that decomposes organic material, in this case, corn, which Charm designed to process 10 tons of biomass per day. Ultimately, Charm turns corn waste, mainly leaves and stalks, into a bio-oil which is then buried in old oil and gas wells where it will be stored for millennia.
The oil could also potentially be used for fossil fuel-free iron-making, adding another layer of decarbonization possibilities for an industry that represents 7% of global emissions.
The stalks and leaves, known as corn stover, would otherwise decay and release even more CO2, thus burying it effectively sequesters it. However, in Kansas, the Charm team ran into the classic engineering problem of too much corn on the cob.
Nevertheless, since Charm’s days of dealing with unexpected and “overwhelming onslaughts of corn cobs,” it’s gone from sequestering “drops in the bucket” worth of CO2 to onboarding a slew of corporate buyers, to landing one of the biggest carbon dioxide removal (CDR) deals in history, worth $53 million. Per that deal, the startup has agreed to remove 112,000 tons of CO2 between 2024 and 2030 for the big tech conglomerate, Frontier.
While that’s still a drop in the proverbial bucket of our emissions and the gigatons that must be removed to inch us closer to decarbonization, it’s a much bigger drop.
Now, Charm has nearly doubled that deal in its latest funding round. The $100 million Series B round was led by General Catalyst, the firm with a portfolio of several noteworthy companies including Charm’s corporate client Stripe, and other platforms you’re probably never heard of like Warby Parker, Canva, Airbnb, Snapchat, and Instacart.
The firm’s CEO and managing director, Hemant Taneja, is a leader in the venture capital world, who, with the investment, joined Charm’s board.
As Charm Industrial’s CEO, Peter Reinhardt, put it in a blog post, the company has seen “plenty of highs and failures” throughout its journey, from the Kansas corn cob chaos to solidified bio-oil, and frozen water lines.
Still, according to General Catalyst, “Peter has assembled a visionary leadership team with a shared resolve to move the carbon removal needle.” The firm says they believe in CDR’s place in the fight against climate change. More specifically, they “believe Charm’s carbon removal is differentiated from incumbents” because of its utilization of bio-oil as opposed to the more difficult-to-store gaseous CO2.
That innovation is what got General Catalyst on board in Charm’s Series A round and what brought them back for Series B.
“The future of carbon removal will be a massive investment in the heartland of America,” Reinhardt wrote in the blog post. “By 2050, we need roughly 10 billion tons per year of carbon removal, which will require 70% year-over-year growth for the next 27 years (twice as fast as software).”
With the money, the startup plans to be a leader in that growth, accelerating the delivery of its carbon removal purchases.
Right now, its primary focus is expanding bio-oil production and transport capacity, and they also aim to expand research and development of bio-oil, and scale operations to tens of thousands of pyrolyzers, to align with its mantra for sequestration: “gigatons or bust!”
With new openings at Charm Industrial, General Catalyst also says they “envision an influx of job opportunities.”
Since the beginning of the year, the company has increased the tons of carbon removal delivered per week five-fold and its recent ramp-up in Colorado and the broader corn belt is just the tip of the iceberg – or rather the corn field — in its continental ambitions.