14: Using rocks to capture carbon at big scale! -Interview with Lithos Co-Founder and CEO, Mary Yap
Updated: Jan 9
Mary Yap is the co-founder and CEO at Lithos Carbon, a leading company transforming farmland into carbon capture centers.
Lithos Carbon's mission is to accelerate mineral weathering — an integral process in the Earth's carbon cycle that naturally captures CO₂ at the gigaton scale. She studied plant biology at The University of Chicago and later obtained a degree in Geology and Planetary Sciences at Yale University, where she conducted award-winning scientific and urban research on the climate crisis. Before devoting her life to climate solutions, Mary spent over six years building early-stage startups.
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Weathering is described as the break down or dissolving of rocks and minerals on the surface of the earth, in which a number of agents such as water, ice, plants etc. impact it’s speed (National Geographic, 2022)
Basalt is a type of igneous rock that is also the earth’s most abundant bedrock. It is widely used and most commonly crushed for construction projects, such as a road base, concrete aggregate and more. (Geology.com, 2022)
Carbon capture is estimated to achieve 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed for 2050 climate targets (C2ES, 2021)
In 2021, the global market for carbon capture and storage was estimated to be worth US$1.76Bn and only expected to increase (Digital Journal, 2022)
Understanding Carbon Removal and Enhanced Rock Weathering
Carbon removal technologies were recognised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a key player in addressing climate change. They centre around a three-step process that involves the capture of carbon dioxide, the transport of the bicarbonates and its ultimate storage. Through this process, atmospheric CO2 is removed and stored permanently in different forms, such as the ocean. (McKinsey, 2022).
Enhanced rock mineral weathering is one of the ways in which a natural carbon capture process is accelerated, a process that Lithos Carbon leverages.
As seen on the infographic, Lithos Carbon upcycles non-salable basalt rock as a means of speeding up an already-natural process. Using novel soil models coupled with machine learning techniques, abundant carbon sequestration is engineered to happen over human seasons rather than geologic millennia (Yap, 2020).
In this episode we are addressing the following questions:
Could you please introduce yourself in a few sentences? 2:07
What was your motivation in the first place to study geology at Yale? 3:00
You mentioned that your grandmother also worked in agriculture. Is that something that inspired you as well? 4:38
Based on the Wikipedia definition of enhanced weathering, is that what you would say it is or would you frame it differently? 8:48
Can you pull us through the whole cycle of enhanced weather? 9:54
Do you use probes? 12:31
How is the chemical reaction working and how does it differ to taking another stone like Limestone? 14:05
How do you accurately measure the carbon captured? 18:38
How much percent is getting captured in the soil and how much flows away? 21:59
Is there a limitation on the types of crops? 23:34
Are there other methods of enhanced weathering? 25:58
Can it replace fertilisers or is it more just soil enhancement? 28:36
Is there a specific size of the fields or industrialisation level needed? 29:50
What is your end goal? 33:27
What are the economics behind the method? 36:08
How far are you right now in the technological development? 38:45
What is your goal in five years? 39:49
Do you have a life motto? 41:44
Do you have a book recommendation for my audience? 43:28
How can people contact you if they want to know more about you & Lithos? 45:42
Great quotes from the episode by Mary:
"To solve the climate crisis, we are not just moving bits, we are moving atoms, we need to move atoms.”
"Natural silicate weathering captures close to 1 billion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere across the globe. We are trying to speed that up by a 100 to 1000 times faster."
“Build something that people want, love and need and then you don’t even have to bother with carbon aspect of it. Just build something they absolutely want, and as long as you know how the process works and you are capturing carbon, you can solve climate change as a side effect.”
"This is something that matters to all of us, we are trying to tackle climate change, we want to get to scale as quickly as possible. So I think that means you don’t want to be grabby about owning every single part of the vertical, you want to bring other players along for the ride."
"In five years we could potentially get to 1 million tons (carbon captured), I think it actually is possible."