Investing into AtmosZero, the drop in heat pumps to decarbonise industrial steam

2150
4 min readFeb 20, 2024

By:

, Derek Brooks and Max Blanshard

Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash

Steam is a vital energy carrier for industry — it is able to hold five to six times as much potential energy as an equivalent mass of water and provides excellent heat transfer, making it an efficient and economical means of transporting controllable amounts of energy from a central boiler house to the point of use. Steam is the primary workhorse of many industries today: for the preparation of the food we eat; the chemicals we use; the paper we write on; and in many campuses and tower blocks it carries heat central boilers to our radiators.

However, the generation of that essential steam still relies heavily on fossil fuels: approximately 30% of energy use in U.S. industry is dedicated to fossil fuel-heated steam boilers. Globally, it is estimated that 100°C-200°C steam is responsible for almost 2 gigatons of CO2 emissions per year, a scale similar to that of the cement industry. Decarbonising industrial steam is therefore a huge and distributed challenge, but with enormous impact potential.

As covered in detail in our Industrial Steam UNSUSTAINABLE blog, there are several options open to industrial players wanting to decarbonise their heat. The first is switching to Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), derived from sources such as landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, or livestock farms. While RNG is a drop-in solution compatible with existing boilers, it is severely supply constrained and therefore priced significantly higher than fossil natural gas, limiting adoption. Another option is to switch to electric boilers, which are well-established in industry and can produce steam at temperatures up to 350°C. However the relatively small efficiency gain compared to gas boilers coupled with the higher cost of electricity means this is rarely an economically sound decision. The final option is to use industrial heat pumps to generate steam, while delivering significant efficiency gains over gas boilers, potentially offsetting the higher cost of electricity. It was through this research that we first came across our latest investment: AtmosZero.

We were blown away by the founding team at AtmosZero, and started talking to potential customers from our LP base and network. We became increasingly convinced that Addison, Todd and Ashwin were onto something.

Dr. Todd Bandhauer, Dr. Addison Stark and Dr. Ashwin Salvi, co-founders of AtmosZero

Their proposition of developing a true drop-in replacement for gas boilers was clearly the way to go — while many customers are keen to decarbonise, they cannot afford to have downtime at their factory, and they are focused on achieving the lowest possible levelised cost of steam. The complexities and capex required to integrate with waste heat, the approach most commonly taken by competitors, very rarely makes sense for a factory. Meanwhile on the other side of the equation, the pressure on European gas prices has made AtmosZero’s heat pump, or “Boiler 2.0”, an economic no-brainer in many regions already. As AtmosZero continue to drive up their coefficient of performance, and drive down their costs, more and more customers will be able to make the switch to decarbonised steam.

AtmosZero team member working on their system

We are incredibly excited to be investing in AtmosZero’s $21m Series A, alongside The Engine and Constellation Ventures, which will enable AtmosZero to roll out new pilots and prepare their high-volume manufacturing facility. We especially look forward to sharing in a refreshing and fully-decarbonised beer from their first pilot customer, New Belgium Brewing. But for now, full steam ahead!

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2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment. 2150’s investment thesis focuses on major unsolved problems across what it calls the ‘Urban Stack’, which comprises every element of the built environment, from the way our cities are designed, constructed and powered, to the way people live, work and are cared for. Find out more at www.2150.vc. 2150 is a part of Urban Partners.

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2150

2150 is a venture capital firm investing in technology companies that seek to sustainably reimagine and reshape the urban environment.