- Academically, university has to be the highlight due to the breadth of learning I received. I was able to study a huge range of topics which kept my knowledge-hungry-self ever interested and helped to hone my cross-disciplinary thinking – a skill I thoroughly value and enjoy.
- Professionally, my career had an interesting beginning as I started my journey in finance the day after Lehman Brothers went bust. Although challenging at the time, I now look back at this as a highlight due to the fact I was exposed to a huge amount very quickly and was given opportunities that, at other times, would have taken much longer to materialise. This exposure was foundational for me and my career.
- My overall highlight however would be when I took the plunge to become an entrepreneur in 2018. Most people thought I was taking a huge risk moving away from finance and focussing my efforts on the quest to solve climate change, but it has been the most rewarding, albeit challenging, experience of my professional life so far.
- Working at Origen has allowed me to expand my skill set and truly learn the benefit of collaboration. Partnering with companies like Singleton Birch and 8 Rivers has allowed us to accelerate opportunities and create the magnitude of impact we require to solve the climate problem.
What is your field of expertise?
I used to work in banking and finance, which is ironic given that I don’t really fit the finance mould. At university, I studied climate science and geology, some engineering, and even economics which gave me a breadth of knowledge that helps inform my view of the world.
I think a good way to describe myself is ‘a generalist – jack of all trades, master of none’. But while some may see this as a negative, I believe breadth of knowledge is really important, and this is something that is reflected in Origen and its team.
As CEO, for example, I use my multi-disciplinary background and leadership experience to lead a diverse team, raising funding for Origen to build and scale our first zero-carbon lime pilot plant in the Humber region of the UK.
So far, we have raised $20 million in funding and were also thrilled to be part of Stripe’s Frontier Fund portfolio alongside our partner 8Rivers.
Describe your journey to where you are today.
When I finished university, like many others, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I was encouraged to start in finance to get exposure to business and funding. At first, I tried my hand at investment banking; it worked out fine but I knew quickly that it was not what I wanted to do. I then moved to a hedge fund and it was there that I learnt a lot about how to think about business and investment. The finance industry in general is a great place to learn important analytical skills and how a business works.
Throughout my time in finance, I was passionate about clean investments and as a result did a lot of work and research on wind, solar, and carbon markets – cleantech was always a keen interest of mine. In 2018, when the IPCC report was released, it took me back to my university days when I read a 2005 IPCC report on carbon capture and storage. This time, however, it was very clear to me that in order to reach our emissions goals, we needed to not only reduce emissions significantly, but remove legacy emissions from the atmosphere.
It was that 2018 IPCC report that prompted me to change career direction – I saw real tangible business opportunities in the emerging carbon removal industry and felt passionate about tackling climate change. I wanted to meet the scientists and pioneers within this space to find a way to work together and make real business opportunities that would benefit the planet.
I truly believe a large part of my success in my role at Origen – and the dynamic of Origen itself – is down to the multi-disciplinary experience I’ve had: my deep-rooted academic experience at university, coupled
with the rigour of my financial background and the fact I enjoy being a contrarian.
I don’t like to be constrained by the status quo. I get frustrated by the answer ‘no’ or ‘we can’t do that’ and ultimately, I believe things come down to attitude – if you have a good, determined attitude you can change the outcome of whatever you set your mind to and it’s that mindset that fuels both me and Origen.
What does your company do, for whom, and how does it fit into the bigger picture of solving global issues with clean tech?
Origen is an international CO₂ removal company, with ambitious plans to use its patented zero-carbon lime technology to accelerate global decarbonisation.
Lime — created from limestone and used extensively in construction and industrial processes such as steelmaking or water purification — reacts naturally with carbon dioxide (CO2) in the form of emissions or in the ambient air.
With Origen’s technology, limestone (calcium carbonate) is broken down at high temperatures (1000°C) in an oxygen-rich environment to produce zero-carbon lime and pure carbon dioxide.
Once isolated, the CO2 can either be converted into useful products or stored permanently underground.
The result is that this process creates low-cost, highly scalable zero-carbon lime that is a game changer. This lime unlocks multiple pathways to carbon removal from the air and/or the oceans to clean up current industrial processes and remove CO2 already released into the atmosphere.
The ultimate goal of Origen’s work is to scale its ZerCaL technology (in partnership with 8 Rivers) to the point that it’s removing tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – not only removing the emissions we create today, but also the historic emissions of the past.
Alongside the DAC goal of ZerCaL, zero-carbon lime can also be used for multiple carbon removal methods such as ocean liming and in the creation of sustainable building materials.
For example, zero-carbon lime can be used to create bricks for home construction. Houses built with these specially formulated bricks can help to remove carbon from the atmosphere. And this is just one application, the possibilities at scale are tremendous.
What do you think is the most important thing we can be doing in terms of clean tech solutions?
At this time, our main priority is education. We need to explain and educate the global populous on the need for carbon dioxide removal. We need to move past the whole debate of which method is best and simply take action. We need people to understand that planting trees is not the solution to reversing climate change.
Anything that gets to scale, whether we like it or not, has to be economically viable. There can be government subsidies, but most industries don’t work off government subsidies into perpetuity. They eventually need to reach a point where they’re cost competitive.
Eventually, carbon removal could be a similar prospect to wastewater treatment. In the same way we want clean water in our taps, we should also want to remove CO2 from our atmosphere. Both create a better environment for us all; so, we should be happy to pay for CO2 removal, at some point, in the same way we pay for our water.
On the flipside, in the next 25 to 50 years, there are likely to be technical developments that allow us to utilise the carbon dioxide we remove for useful by-products. In that instance, it wouldn’t demand payment, but rather it would have created its own circular economy.
LinkedIn: Ben Turner