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The startup Twelve is brilliantly transforming carbon pollution into jet fuel and plastics

The Bay Area company can make chemicals from captured carbon dioxide, and it’s working with everyone from Procter & Gamble to the Air Force.

The startup Twelve is brilliantly transforming carbon pollution into jet fuel and plastics
Etosha Cave, Chief Science Officer, Twelve [Photo: María del Río]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022. Explore the full list of companies that are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture.

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Inside Twelve‘s Bay Area lab, a tank of carbon dioxide captured from a nearby refinery sits next to a dishwasher-size machine that converts the pollution into ingredients for products that are currently made from fossil fuels—from plastic to jet fuel. “In theory, it can become anything that you can make from petroleum,” says chief science officer Etosha Cave, who is working with cofounders Kendra Kuhl and Nicholas Flanders to commercialize technology that Cave and Kuhl developed at Stanford University. The startup’s carbon-transformation process uses a metal catalyst and renewable energy to break CO2 and water molecules into smaller atomic bits, and then re-forms them into new chemicals that can be used in manufacturing. Twelve has already partnered with the Air Force to make jet fuel from CO2, and it’s worked with Daimler and Procter & Gamble to demonstrate that it can recreate ingredients needed to make car parts and Tide, respectively. “We see ourselves doing CO2 conversion as a service, as well as enabling the CO2-made material by embedding within supply chains,” Cave says. The new chemicals are a one-for-one replacement, so Twelve’s customers can lower their carbon footprints without affecting product performance. The startup raised $57 million last summer as it works to build out its process to industrial scale. Cave and the team believe that it can ultimately compete with fossil fuels on cost, and if it can replace petrochemicals at a large scale, the company can meaningfully cut global energy emissions.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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