Ode to Greg: Beloved friend and workhorse

Outgrowing your first hand-built R&D stack can feel strangely emotional, especially when that stack has become a named member of the family.

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Today marks the departure of a very special piece of technology that takes us right back to the start of our carbon removal journey at Mission Zero — a cross-flow air contacting pilot unit affectionately known as Greg.

To anyone unfamiliar with him, Greg was a noisy, sweaty transparent box that took up a generous portion of our small railway arch lab in London. While he could be accused of giving off ‘mouse trap’ or ‘hearse’ vibes, Greg was very much about life.

Greg was the very first piece of R&D technology that we ever created in-house and represents the first stage of our electrochemical direct air capture process — helping our team understand how a full-sized air contactor would perform.

Building Greg was a lesson in resourcefulness and creativity. First designed on the back of an aeroplane sick bag, his outer shell was created by a father and son plastic fabrication company who mainly specialised in making boats. They actually repurposed a snake tank they had previously created for a business mogul to make him.

Ducting and metal work was supplied by our neighbour “Metal Man” Asim. Due to language barriers, most of our early conversations were done via cardboard sketch and hand gestures, but we got there in the end.

The rest — Greg’s spray system, packing supports, and fan mounting sections — were all hand built by our tech lead Trishan. A party smoke machine was also enlisted to help show how air moved through Greg. While extremely useful for making design optimisations, this ultimately led to  a visit from the Bethnal Green fire brigade.

Perhaps it’s better not to name your R&D stack. Yet, even if we hadn’t, today would probably still feel as strangely emotional. Through Greg, we have been able to prove the solvent chemistry of our tech in an environment that mimics full-scale operation — bringing learnings on PLC systems, industrial-grade sensors, and dashboards into the product journey as early as possible.

Greg has fundamentally set the basis for our internal R&D style and philosophy of testing minimum-scaled demonstrations for every part of our DAC in-house. We just needed to multiply Greg’s capture rate by 80 to know approximately how a full-sized air contacting unit would work.

Being able to test in real life like this, and not only rely on modelling or calculations, gave us more confidence in how our technology would scale, and allowed us to move from proof of concept to engineering design basis for our first commercial-scale DAC unit in the space of a few months.

Greg now rests on the back of a removals van heading to specialists who will break him back down to his basics for recycling — hopefully reincarnating Greg into something that will bring others similar wisdom.

Joy is in the small moments. Breakthroughs are made through smaller breakthroughs. Scaling critical climate technology means moving quickly, so it’s important to savour all the little rites of passage and progress.

Thank you for all the fun, Greg.

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