109: Gaurav Sant, UCLA Professor, Founder of CarbonBuilt & Equatic
Guest Name(s): Gaurav Sant
Learn about the breakthrough carbon removal technologies of the trailblazing professor Gaurav Sant. Dr. Sant will excite and encourage you with the different ways carbon dioxide emissions can be captured, stored and removed. From the startups he spearheaded, CarbonBuilt to Equatic – he is a revolutionary on the technique of removing carbon and transforming it into concrete, as well as the sequestration of carbon in oceans and creating green hydrogen.
Episode Audio Links:
ACC #109 – Gaurav Sant – A Climate Change with Matt Matern
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, I’ve got a great guest coming on the program today. Really excited about having him on the show. Doing some amazing work out in academia as well as in “the real world.”
So, it’s always fun to have somebody who’s a kind of an intellectual giant on the show and get to, we get to learn a lot. I think that’s one of the most fascinating things that I’ve been privileged to be a part of is talking some real thought leaders about what’s happening in the environment and some of the amazing things that are being done to help make our world a better place.
So, I like to live in the solution. And, our guest, Gaurav Sant is a person who’s living in the solution. He’s taking carbon and making it into concrete. So that’s a pretty revolutionary concept. And so we’re going to be talking to Gaurav about that. Everybody, please check out our website aclimatechange.com if you want to see some old or listen to some old episodes that we have on there, as well as if you miss any part of this on the radio broadcast, you can always go back and check that out.
Without further ado, Gaurav, thanks, welcome to the program.
Thanks for having me, Matt.
So tell us a little bit about your journey to get to where you are, as far as you know, the work that you’re doing in and taking carbon and turning it into concrete also had read some interesting stuff that you’re taking carbon out of the ocean, and turning it into hydrogen. And that, to me is revolutionary as well. So a lot of ground to cover.
Um, yeah, thanks. Thanks for the opportunity. So I’m, I’m a third generation civil engineer, I grew up on the west coast of India and moved to the US to go to college. My grandfather built half a city in India, my father built half a state in India. And you know, I’ve been privileged to watch what development and particularly civil engineers can do to affect people’s quality of lives.
As I made my way through my own career, I sort of often asked that question to myself. And I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to create UCLA Institute for Carbon Management. And we’re a Translational Institute. And what that means is we don’t do discovery research.
But we take technologies from the bench scale to commercial free commercial prototypes. And we’re really focused on carbon management, and particularly the avoidance, the removal and the utilization of emissions. And really, how do you do this in an affordable way, in an accessible way?
And how do you do it in a manner that’s globally scalable, and one of the things that’s both fascinating and daunting about the carbon management challenge is that we produce more carbon dioxide than anything else that humanity has ever produced.
The problem is all of this carbon dioxide is a waste, and we allow it to accumulate in the atmosphere. And that leads to climate change and where we are today. When we set up this institute, we were really focused on thinking about pathways by which we could affect and effect carbon management, with really a view on thinking about non geological sequestration pathways, right. So thinking about approaches where you do not put carbon dioxide into reservoirs within the Earth, as a matter and manner of storing it.
We will really focus on everyday industries, we will focus on things like cement and concrete, I claim to be a cement chemist for whatever it’s worth. We were focused on things like energy at large, because the energy sector is such a big contributor to carbon emissions.
And then we were focused on you know, what sort of enabling technologies are really necessary to make carbon management feasible, you know, as a function of the fact that I claim to be a civil engineer, you know, cement and concrete sort of deal to me.
We can’t imagine a world without cement and concrete. But this is a big industry. And it’s a industry, that face has a massive challenge. So the production of cement, which is the glue that holds concrete together, is responsible for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions.
And so this is a sector that we were really focused on. We’ve often heard about the idea that there’s a need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, there’s a need to prevent carbon dioxide from getting to the atmosphere. But current pathways are really expensive and we were interested in things and ideas around – can you really create valuable products that could reduce the cost of problem management? And this is where we were really interested in this idea of turning carbon dioxide on a concrete.
This is also the thesis around which we worked on Project Seachange, which is now turned into a company called Equatic, which produces hydrogen while simultaneously affecting carbon removal from the oceans. In each case, you can see that there’s a there’s a thesis around it, that you produce a product that allows you to offset the cost of carbon management. And that’s sort of how we we’ve headed off on this journey.
So tell us the Sea Change project. Tell us more about that. I’m really fascinated about that. And what was the genesis of that project? And where are you at now? And where are you hoping to go?
Yeah, this is this is something that I’m really excited about. So we’ve been working on Project Sea Change, for nearly about five years now. And the entire thesis was conditioned around two or three things.
Number one, the oceans are in effect, the largest removal of CO2, so to speak in the world, by far. So 30% of all of the CO2 that we put into the atmosphere is in fact absorbed by the oceans. But the oceans are now capacity capped, and they can’t remove any additional CO2. This is number one.
Number two, the oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, which is quite attractive, because if you had a mechanism in a way of being able to stabilize and store carbon dioxide durably in the oceans, this could be really exciting as well. And finally, the oceans contain 150 times more CO2 than air per unit volume. And so if you’ve got to try and remove CO2 from the oceans, it’s far easier than doing it by it, but from the air, because there’s a continuous exchange equilibrium between the atmosphere and the ocean.
So any CO2 that we put into the atmosphere is eventually absorbed by the oceans. And what that means is, you know, it’s kind of like a sponge. If you have a sponge that’s really wet, you squeeze it, now it’s got some capacity to absorb water again, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with the oceans. Except that we’re doing it we’re counting the oxide, the concept of the process is actually really straightforward.
You’re taking some seawater and you’re running an electrical current through it. What electricity allows us to do is it allows us to trigger a series of really specific chemical reactions that allow us to store carbon dioxide in the form of mineral carbonates, things like materials, like sea shells are made of calcium carbonate, and affect the alkalinity such that the oceans can store more CO2 within them. This is the whole crux of the process.
And the nice thing is, since it’s based on a chemical process, that’s known as electrolysis, we’re essentially splitting water. And if you think about what splitting water does is it gives you hydrogen and oxygen. And this is how we’re producing hydrogen, which is a clean fuel and oxygen, which is a valuable chemical commodity for a variety of products and processes.
So in terms of the amount of electricity that it takes to split the water, I’ve talked to some people about creating hydrogen, and there are some people who say, “well, it takes too much electricity to split the split the water molecule, and it’s less efficient,” and yada, yada. So what’s your response to that?
You know, so maybe two comments here, right? So, in general, of course, it does take electricity, and it does take energy to split water. But if you can do this in a way where you’re doing it not simply to produce hydrogen, but also affecting carbon removal, at the same time, you’re essentially getting a two for one.
When you consider this approach of being able to get a two for one, in fact, both the economics but also the energy balances of the process actually look really good. And this is one of the fundamental reasons why we chose to go in this direction of affecting both carbon removal simultaneous with hydrogen production.
An important aspect which should be emphasized as related to this manner of carbon removal is that the manner in which you end up storing carbon dioxide in the oceans gives you a stability, well in excess of about 10,000 years.
And so what that means is you’re really doing some very durable forms of carbon management, which I think is important when you think about the fact that, you know, we want to be able to store carbon dioxide, durably enough long enough, I don’t know, Matt, in a manner and a matter that’s relevant to geological scales.
Right. One of the things that I read was that you are shooting for, I don’t know if you’re there yet, of producing hydrogen at $1 per kilo. And that was, that’s essentially in line with what the Biden administration’s Ershad goal, was to produce hydrogen at $1 per kilo, where are you at in that process? And if you did, it would be revolutionary, because then we could afford to power so many things off of hydrogen more cheaply than fossil fuels.
Right. So, so great, great comments, Matt. Maybe a couple of things to point out right. So we’ve been we’ve been working on this adventure For what nearly a half decade now, what we’ve done is that we’ve systematically come up in our understanding and on the scale curve.
So going from things that operate in a laboratory bench, to now having equipment and devices that are sitting on 100 foot barge in the Port of Los Angeles, and an industrial facility in Singapore. The idea of being able to do this is to demonstrate the process at a meaningful scale, try and understand what it takes to build commercial scale plants and try and understand the economics.
And having spent a fair amount of time looking at this, we indeed think we’re going to live well at the bottom of the cost curve around hydrogen production. And you’re exactly right, you know, having access to cheap green hydrogen is fundamentally important to be able to displace fossil fuels as the energy medium of choice.
And if you think about what $1 A kilogram translates into, it’s, it’s exactly that you set it exactly right, you end up with an energy source that’s considerably cheaper than fossil fuels as we know them today.
It’s pretty revolutionary stuff. You’re listening to A Climate Change. And I’ve got Professor Sant from UCLA and he’s talking about revolutionizing the planet here, people listening. We’ll be right back in just one minute with our genius, professor of science to tell us how we can potentially change the path of the planet here.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, and this is Matt Matern, your host. I’ve got Professor Sant on the program. We were just talking about hydrogen and how we can get it down to $1 per kilo, which is going to clean up and green up our planet. Professor Sant, take it from there.
Thanks. Thanks again, Matt. You know, I think one thing to also point out when we think about carbon management is to really think about processes that can achieve incredible scale, an important part that we think is really foundational, the Project SeaChange, that because the process relies only on electricity, see water and rocks, as a as a pathway to operate. It’s something you can do all around the world and using materials that we can find all around us.
I think, you know, when we think about the scale, the scale, the size, and the scope of the carbon management challenge, what is really important is two things. A, can you do this anywhere in the world? B, can you do this cheaply enough anywhere in the world.
As we said about thinking about this process, I think, you know, these were really sort of fundamental tenets that we were focused on. Because this is not a problem of nations, it’s a problem of society. And what that means is we need to enable nations all around the world to be able to exercise processes of the sort.
And if you can do this in a way that you know, you both effect carbon removal, and you provide a source of green energy, you can do it at incredible scale, and have broad societal buying and using processes of this sort for carbon management.
So what are the next steps for a Project SeaChange? You’ve started to the model for it, and how is it working? What do you see is the types of breakthroughs that you need to have, or incremental changes, to get it to the point where it’s getting closer to $1 a kilo. And, you know, we can move forward on a worldwide basis.
You know, so this is really sort of a now a matter of speed and scale. You know, the way that that UCLA Institute for carbon management is set up is we think of ourselves as a de risking platform, with the objective being that you do this technology and bring it to a point that now becomes suitable for scaling in the commercial world.
I think we’re at the point that we’ve not done that we’ve demonstrated that this process works, it offers, I would say highly attractive economics, there is a pathway here, what is now necessary to really take this out into a company and go out and do this at very large scale. And I think this is really what the next part of the adventure looks like.
How quickly can you build really large plants at scale? How do you do this all around the world? And what is that pathway look like? And I think this is what sets the transition for really thinking about commercial deployment scenario.
I think in addition to that, you know, the reason that you want to be focused on coming up and scale and building out quickly, is there’s a lot that you learn while doing so learning while doing is something that’s really important, but also as you as you increasingly produce in larger and larger volumes, costs come down. And so you really want to try and understand what these reductions or costs look like.
Because both of these aspects related really learning while doing and bringing costs down are now sort of fundamental thinking about what does large scale diffusion of technology of the sort in the world look like?
So in terms of your company that you’ve created, that is working on this, are you looking at licensing this technology to other companies, governments or, you know, rolling it out? Just through the, you know, the company that you’ve created to move forward?
You know, I think I think the short answer is for right now, it’s early days, but it seems like a good initial starting point is to really be the technology provider and the project developers simultaneously.
Um, these are new technologies. And so what do you really want to do is you want to be able to build confidence, you can demonstrate that it can be done.
And so maintaining control of the process initially makes a lot of sense, once you’ve gone out, and you’ve sort of shown the world that this can be done, the economics are strong, and there’s a track record here, you know, then it’s much easier to be able to go out and defuse it and offer it to other people, as you know, here’s technology, you can go deploy it on your own as sort of a technology license. But initially, it makes a lot of sense that you take responsibility of showing that pathway, both to profitability and a scale on your own.
You know, of course, this can change any time, as you know, we might end up showing success far sooner than we thought and you know, that might create opportunities that we haven’t thought about yet. And so I think you want to have a combination between focus, but also flexibility, so you can pivot with the opportunity and the times that you’re in.
Right? So are you getting any help from the government in terms of buy in from, say, the federal government state government, to, to fund some of your work there.
So in fact, the federal government to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for energy has actually been a big supporter of the work, they have been really focused on trying to help us develop new types of electrode materials, as an examples of these plants. And so indeed, they are an important player that we work alongside.
Right? I had Jigar Shah on the program about three, four months ago, and he’s at the Department of Energy in charge of kind of directing, I think it was about $40-50 billion worth of loans Did, did you hit up my friend Jigar for, you know, a billion or two?
We haven’t we haven’t hit up Jigar for anything just yet. But we absolutely do imagine that the loan program office is going to be an important office for us to be speaking on new costs.
Okay, well, it sounds like you’re, what you’re doing is right in line with what they’re trying to do. And so, you know, I think you should give them a shout out and say, hey, it’s time for time for us to have a sea change here.
So where where are you at in terms of raising funding and taking the next steps with that technology that you have developed?
Well, you know, it’s one of these things, you’re always raising money, and you’re always coming up at scale. And both of these things have to be happening simultaneously. And so the short answer is, we’re always doing both right, because one enables and other. You know, money is a really important part of what it takes to scale these processes.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to be backed by incredible people that have helped us to what we’ve done so far. And I anticipate we will continue to be backed by incredible people that will help us scale what we’ve done so far.
So yeah, when you were going to engineering school, did you kind of think that you would be in the money management or money raising business? Or were you prepared for this at all?
You know, you know, Matt, I think it’s one of these things that, you know, when we’re when we’re preparing and training for a career to come, I think we’re just focused on preparing and training. Well, you know, I think what your career offers as it unfolds, is what you learn and what you challenge yourself with as you go put on that path.
Right, you’ll learn new disciplines, new techniques, new processes.
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.
So how are you enjoying that? That part of your new your new life?
Yeah, I love it, you know, it, you’ve got different kinds of challenges, but you know, different kinds of challenges yield different kinds of rewards. And so what do you really look at is the reward that yields now the challenge that you face, but at the same time, every challenge is a learning opportunity. And, you know, given the fact that I work at clearly an institution of learning, all sorts of learning are clearly very valuable.
So, in terms of the learning front and your, your duties as a professor, you know, how are you kind of rolling this out to the to the new generation and how are they adapting and how are they helping, and you know, do you see they’re taking your work to the next level?
You know, I think one of the things that we’re really going to need as we think about mitigating climate change is really talent. And we’re going to need a new kind of talent that will we do not have an has not been trained historically. And so this is, in fact, an incredible opportunity for universities and like people such as myself, where you have the ability to mentor and train and teach folks that are going to be instrumental to all of the change that we deliver.
And I think this is also really I think, in many ways simplified because the younger generation, so to speak, is incredibly invested in the idea of doing good and affecting climate changes trajectory meaningfully. And I think, would you get with a combination of really smart people that are invested aware and want to make a difference, and the ability to be able to impart new information to them that’s going to help build a meaningful career. I think that’s what you need for the makings of success.
Well, that is really exciting. I feel like that one of the things that I’ve learned over the last few years of talking to so many different people is, how many great minds are working on these problems, and how, how exciting the work is that they’re doing. And I feel like eventually we’re gonna get there. It’s just a kind of a question of how fast.
And that’s why I’m, I’m really thinking with you, like, we need to get you guys the money and the resources to move that project faster. And, um, I don’t want to see you did laying around, you know, you need to be, you need to be going full blast, no, no breaks, I see you’re, you know, a supporter of Chelsea, but I’m not sure I’m here allowed to, to watch their games until you get car, you know, hydrogen down to $1 a kilo.
That’s 100% right, Matt. And that’s why alongside getting hydrogen to $1 a kilogram, the other thing that I’m really focused on is trying to make a 36 hour day, because I need a few more hours. And both of these things need to happen all at once.
Right? These are the challenges of scientists trying to save the world, you know, there is that balance and trying to trying to get that balance right. So what doyou do in your life to kind of create that balance?
You know, it’s actually interesting. So I’ve got about a young daughter. And that’s, that’s always exciting, because, you know, I think it not only does it give you purpose, but it keeps you grounded.
I think that there are two things that which I personally find really entertaining, I grew up by the coast and India, going to the beach is something that I incredibly enjoy. And I’ve always enjoyed. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s something that’s both deeply meaningful to me. But it’s got lots of sort of, I would say, memories of me as a child that is associated with it as well.
I love to read. And in fact, I read every single night before I go to bed. And I think this is something which again, I like really very much and you know helps me be compressed. And I like to travel, I like to see the woods. And there’s so much around us that we’ve built we formed we’ve gone with and being able to see what all of that is really wonderful as well.
It’s great to see that you’re having a balanced life, because I do think that that’s important in terms of that it is a bit of a marathon and not a sprint. And we’ve got to stay kind of in good shape in order to keep doing this day in and day out.
So good for you. We’ll be back in one minute. You’re listening to A Climate Change. And we’ll be talking to Professor Sant about how he’s turning carbon into concrete and sea water into hydrogen, and to changing the planet. We’ll be right back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Professor Sant on the program. He is with the Samueli School of Engineering at UCLA. And he’s the holder of the Pritzker Chair in Sustainability.
Tell us a little bit more about the school there and what kind of act ecosystem that is being created at UCLA that supports the work that you’re doing and the work of other scientists, and generating, you know, great ideas, great scientists and planet saving solutions.
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for the opportunity to speak about us, man. So you know, I think we’ve been really fortunate to have incredible leadership. And our leadership has allowed us to go out and create a sensitive carbon management and like I said, we’re translational Institute, and that what that means is we don’t do any discovery research where we really focus on developing technologies, be risking them and then seeking to commercialize them.
An important thing that we’ve, I think learned now, and been able to translate and transition, and from an art into a science is really this process around translation. And we spend a lot of time sort of thinking about what this means. And, you know, we start with the idea of what’s known as a landscape analysis, where we try and identify a space that we’re interested in interested in and study it in terms of its shape in terms of organization in terms of its structure, as a market, as a technology base. But also in terms of what the deficiencies there might be.
We work with some incredibly talented people, when we do this landscape analysis and we see something there that’s of interest, we transition it into doing some verification and validation around some key technological concepts at the bench scale. If there’s something interesting there that comes out of it, and you were able to go through our verification and validation in a robust manner, we will go into looking at doing effectively translation – which is going from the bench scale to building a device, a prototype for a system that meaningfully lives that processes 10s of 1000s of pounds as an example, of material per day, whether it’s carbon dioxide, or whether it’s something else.
With the idea being that you want to go from the bench scale to something. Which is a meaningfully large system, where you can evaluate what is known as techno economics, you can evaluate manufacturability, and scalability. And you can evaluate what’s known as unit cost of production to a high level of certainty.
As you go up, as you go through this translation process, or the translation funnel, as we call it, we upscale and up engineer, the value engineer and really go on and build systems and devices. What this gives us the ability to do is it gives us the ability to learn from what we’ve done, and try and understand, you know, really, what are the challenges with coming up a scale curve.
But it’s also instilled in us an incredible capacity to be able to run these crash development programs, where you go from something that’s in a beaker, and 12 months later, sitting on 100-foot barge in the Port of LA. You know, I think this entire process of translation and upscaling that we’ve been working on for about seven or eight years now is, I think, really the most important thing that we do.
It’s the most important because it allows us to really determine is a technology that’s interesting, and a laboratory actually worthy and worthwhile in the real world. I think this is a really important part of you know, how we should be thinking about what does it take to evaluate technologies that may be appropriate, to mitigate climate change?
I think alongside this, we’ve been very fortunate to have an incredible set of supporters and backers, all across the world, that are really bought into the mission and the work that we do. And I think being able to create de-risking platforms of the sort, not only at UCLA, but really around the world as something that’s fundamentally important to developing technologies worldwide, that are all going to be needed to mitigate climate change.
You know, it’s an interesting question as to how we evaluate the kind of winners and losers in this front. And whether or not the market is efficient enough to do that, or, if some kind of environmental czar would be better suited to make some of these decisions.
Because the market may blow it and put money into a company or a technology that’s not as good. What are your thoughts on that front? Should we just let the market make these decisions? Or is there some kind of central command that might have scientific experts that might make better calls?
You know, I think I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer to this, where I can try and offers my own perspectives, right. So the market makes decisions based on cost, lowest cost, for a given outcome is the winner. Now, this is one set of, this is one framework that we can use. And there’s a variety of reasons why, right?
So the lower the cost at which you can do it, that probably means as an example, empirically, it might suggest that it’s the most efficient process or the most efficient process that you can bring to scale. It might have a technical underpinning to it, it’s also possible that it just turns out to be lowest cost, because there is no other competition, which could be a problem.
Now, on the other hand, you know, you can take a technical view to it, the issue with the technical view is that eventually, if it’s not affordable, it won’t adopt and scale. And so really, what you need is you need a combination between technical measures and market efficiency, which is a combination of how big could this be? And how cheap could it get? You’ve got to really think about this in both ways.
And finally, the other measure that we’ve got to think about, which we often don’t, is how quickly could we do this? Because time is of the essence, we’ve got about 30 years to go to net zero and then start removing between 10 to 20 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which means time is really an important basis and thinking about how much we can do, how quickly and then at what cost, all need to be decision variables that we have in mind.
I think as we are today, often we don’t, consider this three-prong decision basis, we simply just, we typically just focus on sort of lowest cost. But maybe there’s a need for more than just lowest cost as we think about these decisions, particularly how fast and how big.
In terms of, you know, you’re talking about some interdisciplinary type of approaches to this. How involved have you gotten in, say, public policy, given the fact that a lot of this has to do with public policy and tax, you know, how are we taxing certain items? Whether it’s carbon or, other pollutants or are giving credits to people that are taking stuff out of the atmosphere? Are you engaged in that on that front at all?
Yeah, you know, we provide advice and input to policymakers around the world. This is an important aspect of what we do. But fundamentally, I will say that while we do provide advice and input more than anything else, we really see ourselves as technology innovators. And really, we see technology as the lever by which you essentially drive solutions to arrive at the lowest cost.
In effect, I think this is an important basis. Because you know, while policy is indeed important, we need to be doing our part of also trying to figure out what’s the lowest cost pathway of being able to make a difference or to deliver a given outcome. And you need both to go hand in hand, you don’t want policy to race out of technology.
And you don’t want technology to be too early and far ahead of policy, because then technology might fail, independent of how good it is. And so really, the key here is to be able to inform policymakers and create continue the development of technology, so that the sync, so to speak in lockstep on a timescale with each other, but don’t hold each other back.
Well, that that is a balancing act for sure, given our current public policy environment in the US, but maybe we’ll switch gears a little bit to this entity, CarbonBuilt, reverses technology, how does it work? And how did you create a new kind of cement?
Yeah, so you know, this is this is something I’m really excited to speak of. So CarbonBuilt is based, was spun out on the basis of technology for which we won a Carbon XPRIZE, the NRG COSIA carbon XPRIZE. We’re the only university in the world to have ever won a Carbon XPRIZE. And, you know, I’m, I’m really proud of the fact that we built a team that went out and did this.
And the reason that we were really excited about this, this pathway is the ability to deliver a product at cost parity, which has functional equivalence. But a carbon footprint, which is 70 to 100%, lower than a traditional concrete product is pretty incredible. I mean, this this is this is truly disruptive and truly, truly transformative when viewed from the perspective of the construction sector, which is indeed a classic commodity business, so to speak.
And, you know, this is this is also an approach that once again, we sort of taken through the institute’s translation funnel. And the nice thing about it is that now in a matter of just the next couple of weeks, next couple of months, CarbonBuilt will actually be starting operations of its first commercial plants.
That is exciting. So tell us more about CarbonBuilt? And are there investment opportunities there? Or is that something that’s privately held? What what’s going on that front?
So CarbonBuilt is a venture finance company, their CEO, Rahul Shendure is an absolute superstar. And, you know, I think they’ve been doing some incredible things. They’ve built an incredible team. I’m based on Los Angeles. And you know, I think they’re gonna be really focused on building as many plants as they can all around the world. And so indeed, I’m sure there’s ways that people could be working with them.
Well, it’s exciting stuff that you’re talking about. We’ll be back in just one minute with Professor Sant, who is telling us about turning you know, carbon into cement, which is a fascinating possibility given that it’s taking approximately 10% of our greenhouse gases are coming from that, that process of creating concrete.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Professor Sant on the program from UCLA Institute for Carbon Management. You know, right before the break, we were talking about concrete and cement. And I think I misspoke, and the professor has corrected me. Thank goodness, we have him. I think I said cement and it was concrete. I think that was the correct answer. But that’s why we have the professor on the program to fact check me and get me on then, on the right path here.
One of the things, which, you know, you had mentioned earlier is the green premium. And that’s talked about both in Bill Gates his book about, you know, where he, he was talking about, that we have these green premiums that we’re going to have to deal with, and his book was how to avoid a climate disaster. And, and then also, I hate to mention it, but you kind of already alluded to speed and scale, which John Doerr had written his book about a global action plan for solving our climate crisis. And he’s, you know, the Stanford, you know, he created an institute up in Stanford regarding sustainability. I was going to say competitor, but more like a colleague in the in the process.
And, you know, those are a couple of things that I wanted to ask you about. Tell us more about your view about the green premium? And what do you think? Yeah, how much do we have to sustain a product or solution, before, we should expect that that’s eliminated?
Yeah. So it’s a great, great comment, great commentary. You know, when we think about the green premium, this is this is actually, I think, at least in my view, really problematic. Because in effect, what we’re saying is, we are going to increase our cost of living to make a difference. You know, you know, in a developed economy, this might be potentially tolerable in a developing economy, for example, really, which is represented by the global south at large, it’s intolerable.
And so the idea that we are going to mitigate climate change by impoverishing the world simply does not sit well. I think this has to be where technology plays an important role. And you know, why, why technological innovation is so important, because technological innovation is really the lever by which you compress and eliminate the green premium.
What this requires, however, is that we have the ability to scale and stage, that we come up and scale and we stage how we come up and scale in a manner that we compress and eliminate the green premium as quickly as possible, if it does exist to begin with. But I think a fundamental challenge that we should be laying out for innovators all around the world, is how would you eliminate the green premium?
And so really asking the question around, you know, what does innovation need to involve for the green premium to be eliminated at the beginning, is maybe a really good challenge question to be able to set. I think, with lots of the work that we have done and we continue to do, you know, we really sort of push this thinking onto ourselves.
Because we think that this is really what is needed to create a market for that is organic, where you don’t rely on policy, but you really rely on the idea that reductions in emissions and embodied carbon intensity can be delivered without changing the cost and price, particularly the price of materials and products and services.
I think if you’re able to embed this gentle thinking into society at large, that we can reduce carbon footprint, it can happen at the same price. And it can happen quickly, so long as we stage it and manage it. I think that will be a wonderful direction to go. The next part, which turns out to be really important…
I get that and that’s kind of I think, the goal and in some respects the miracle, but I think another part of that is the equation of not pricing into the model, the cost of the damage to the environment, and for so long. Basically, industry has sold us the good or whatever, that destroying our air quality. or water quality is not a cost to us. And it’s just not embedded in the the way that we price out our products.
And to me that was, you know, maybe that work 200 years ago, because there wasn’t an immediate cost to it. But now there’s a cost to it. And we’re not accounting for it. It’s poor accounting, to not say, “hey, you’re making the air in Los Angeles unbreathable.” That’s a cost, right?
That’s 100% right, Matt, right. So if you think about credit, pollutants, for example, we think about smog and Los Angeles, there’s a reason why smog has gotten light, we technologically innovated a pathway to be able to get rid of it. But most importantly, we set in place really strong policy and laws, for example, under the Clean Air Act, that allowed us to be able to deal with criteria pollution.
Now, but what are the requires is really allocating a precise, I would say metric that implicates the damage caused by criteria pollutant to the environment and human life. If we could align on a social cost of carbon and really understand what that social cost of carbon is, that gives you sort of an accounting mechanism, just like you suggested, for being able to understand what the damage to the environment and damage to human beings in general really turns out to be.
If you factor that into the cost basis, of course, this gets a whole lot easier. But as you do know, this is a difficult consensus to arrive at. And a time in which consensus might be hard to arrive at, you know, I sort of have to step back and say, count on technology to push forward as aggressively as possible. Because that continues to be the only really strong lever that you have.
Right? I hear what you’re saying is a is a true realist, you better be able to beat people on price. And then then you win the argument hands down. Obviously, you know, our concrete is cheaper than yours, therefore, you should use it, you know, and then it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s green, or blue or purple, you just want to use it.
Now, in terms of speed and scale, that is a definite challenge. How are we going to do that? What are we going to do? What do we need to do more of in order to pick up the speed and the scale of what, you know, brilliant ideas are being implemented around the world? That that’s happening. How do we move them faster? At a greater scale?
Yeah, I think there’s I think there’s a couple of things to be thinking about here. Right. So I think there’s a huge diversity of ideas that people are proposing, suggesting offering, validating, verifying all of the above. You know, and I think at some point, we’ll have to sort of start to think to ourselves and say, you know, here’s a couple of, I would say buckets of ideas that we really need to push forward really quickly.
So while we can continue to innovate new buckets and add to the existing buckets, we’re going to have to make some bets, because there’s some things that we’ll have to bring to scale quickly enough. And so I think some of this really involves sort of thinking about, what are the things that we could do the biggest possible scale, quickest and at the lowest cost and sort of developing a decision making framework or decision support framework that allows us to take large and meaningful shots on goal without just taking shots on board.
So it’s not simply about number, but it’s really about quality. And the value of the shots that we take, I think this is one part of it. The second part of it that we really need to think about is…
Can I stop you right there, because that’s such an important piece, I want to ask you a follow up on that is, how do we get to that point? It’s kind of similar to my question earlier, do we have this czar of, you know, the environment? Who says these 10 shots on goal are the best shots on goal? Or do we let the market decide that?
You know, Matt, I think I think you need a combination of both. And you know, I don’t have I don’t have a response for us as a society at large. But what I can say what we’ve been doing at the Institute for carbon management is really looking at technologies and the development of technologies that allow us to abate the largest quantity of carbon dioxide emissions at the lowest cost. And considering industries that are most foundational to our way of life.
It’s between these three sort of support bases or decision bases that we’ve been thinking about all of the work that we do, because we think this is a lens that matters, because you don’t want to change people’s lives. You want them to continue to have improvements in life, but you want to reduce the carbon impact of each one of us living our lives in a particular way. This is the framework that we have applied to ourselves and you know, it allows us to guide how the support that is provided to us is best deployed.
There’s probably some analogy of this that we should be thinking about more broadly as well. And whether it happens through one’s czar or May I, for every nation or one tsar at a state level, you know, is maybe a question to be asked. But at the same time, you know, we’ve also got to keep in mind that that there is a need for speed of decision making. And so we need to arrive at this framework, whatever it turns out to be meaningfully fast.
The challenge with the market just on its own is that markets take a long time to stabilize and pick a winner, often they end up picking a winner, because that isn’t clear competition that has emerged. And so I think, you know, we need, we need a balance between sort of short term view and a longer term view.
And then like I said, you know, thinking about how quickly how much and at what cost, and using that really guide, which of these buckets we promote, and which of the bits in the bucket we promote, and which ones we say, you know, we’ll punt for another day.
Well, you know, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program. Professor Gaurav Sant of the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, amazing work that you’re doing out there. And I feel like you’re on the cutting edge, and we should all kind of support that great work.
Everybody go out, check out the Institute for Carbon Management website, icm.ucla.edu. And follow the work that’s being done. And actually, you know, see what you can do to support the types of things that the professor is talking about.
And, you know, because if we can do this as a group, and if we all are aligning behind great people, we have greater power. So, I encourage everybody to get involved and support the great work that’s being done over there at UCLA. And thank you so much, Professor for leading the charge there.
Thanks very much, Matt. Thanks for having me.
Yeah. And, you know, one of the things that I have incorporated into my life is a yoga philosophy, and when poses that I like to do is a kind of a gratitude pose. And, and I’m grateful for having you on the show, grateful for the work that you’re doing and wish you all the best going forward.
Thank you, Matt. You’re far too kind.
Okay. Thank you and everybody, tune in next week.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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