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Sora Fuel

Founders & Leadership

Gareth Ross, Patrick Sarver, Curtis Berlinguette


University of British Columbia, Engine Ventures

Investment Area

Creating sustainable fuels from atmospheric carbon

The hydrocarbons we combust in the service of human needs have always come from the atmosphere—albeit on extended time scales. In fossil fuels, the carbon was converted into biomass millions of years ago; in biofuels, the carbon was fixed by photosynthesis during a recent growing season. Society relies on the incredible energy density of these everyday fuels. But their hydrocarbons accumulated over millennia, and the planet now suffers from the glut of carbon returned to the atmosphere at a breakneck—and catastrophic—rate. But what if we could accelerate that process of pulling CO2 from the atmosphere today, and converting it into fuel we can use tomorrow? “If we're going to bypass the extraction pathways that dominate today, we need to do what nature has done—but much, much faster,” says Gareth Ross. “We need to get CO2 out of the air and convert it to a dense, energy-rich, liquid hydrocarbon—so we can fly planes, or whatever else we need.”

Sora Fuel, a startup conceived within Engine Ventures based on technology from Curtis Berlinguette’s lab at the University of British Columbia, plans to produce e-fuels from carbon directly captured from the air, in a closed-loop system reliant only on water and electricity. Its root technological innovation is a bicarbonate electrolyzer developed in the Berlinguette Lab, which directly uses air-captured CO2 for the efficient production of syngas, an established precursor to liquid fuels. Compared to today’s leading DAC solutions, Sora Fuel’s combined capture, utilization, and fuel synthesis process dramatically reduces overall energy inputs, eliminates the need for feedstocks (other than air), and generates an essential product with a trillion dollar global market. “By generating syngas from air, water, and renewable electricity, we are enabling an infinitely scalable pathway to sustainable aviation fuels, or numerous other products downstream of syngas,” says Ross.

At the heart of Sora’s innovative electrolyzer is a bipolar membrane that enables a fundamentally new approach to the electrochemical conversion of CO2 into CO. Over years of development, Berlinguette realized that the economical sourcing of purified, pressurized, gaseous CO2 remained the economically limiting factor in carbon capture and utilization. “We needed to find a way to avoid the high-energy regeneration of CO2 from the carbon capture medium,” explains Berlinguette. “That required rethinking the membrane.” The foundational development was a membrane-electrode assembly that directly employs a liquid bicarbonate feedstock—itself the product of an established approach to direct air capture.

In effect, Sora’s tech skips a step. “We can take the captured CO2, and use electricity instead of intense heat or vacuum to release the CO2 and then generate useful products,” explains Patrick Sarver, CSO. Doing so eliminates 90% of the energy currently required in standard direct air capture processes, opening up new economics and scales. And crucially, the sorbent used to absorb CO2 is regenerated by the electrolyzer, enabling a groundbreakingly-efficient, closed-loop system. By employing the Fischer-Tropsch process, in use since World War II, Sora can then convert syngas to sustainable aviation fuel, a crucial drop-in technology with an expansive and growing global market.

“We are enabling a closed-loop, sustainable system that finally opens a scalable process for carbon neutral fuels,” says Ross. “By cutting out the regeneration step and directly generating an economical product that we can sell below its current market price, we are making the economics of direct air capture viable for the first time,” adds Sarver.