Great to chat with Erica Nemser, CEO of Compact Membrane Systems, a company that creates membrane technology to capture and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform industry into a long-term sustainable enterprise! We discussed the challenges of decarbonization, point source carbon capture, how a membrane works at low pressure, scaling up the technology and more!

They can be contacted at membranes@compactmembrane.com

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James

The unedited podcast transcript is below

James McWalter

Hello today we’re speaking with Erica Nemser Ceo at Compact Membrane Systems welcome to the podcast. Erica Brilliant could you tell us a little bit about compact membrane systems or Cms.

Erica Nemser

Thank you for having me.

Erica Nemser

Sure as the name suggests makes Membrane systems in this case for point source carbon capture and a host of other decarbonization Solutions pool.

James McWalter

And what I guess drove that initial decision to join Cms and then start developing that product. 

Erica Nemser

So sure. Um, I joined cms about seven years ago and the company had a history before that of really developing cutting-edge technology. There was substantial investment in the technology and solutions. Um. And that’s a little bit different from some other companies I’m not the ah part of the original founding team. My background is one of coming from economics and management consulting. So I jumped into the team at a point where they had developed some existing technologies. And had really profound um bench-scale results on a decarbonization platform and so.

James McWalter

And and was that were they targeting decarbonization or was that bench research focused on something else and then this is a spin out application of that original research and.

Erica Nemser

I would say they had a portfolio of about None different technology technology applications some commercial some ready to be commercialized and some at bench scale. So one of the first things that I did when I came in was the portfolio rationalization process meaning like you can’t get None things successfully to market with a team of less than 30 so where are we going to focus. Um, and that’s where a little bit where the management consultancy came came into play. Which is you know that’s been a background of work that I’d done um and focus on the initial decarbonization application came out of that with carbon capture as the sort of follow on but remember seven years ago you couldn’t have a conversation about point source carving capture technology with anyone we thought it was important but the world would tell us it’s not coming until twenty thirty 20 40 None um and the world’s changed a lot.

James McWalter

and it’s something that’s tough of mind for you know, a lot of folks right now and and something that has huge amount of investment going into it. But I guess what when you were kind of thinking you know those seven years ago what were the attributes or aspects of the potential market that made you think ok you know. This is not a None product. This is a None or 2022 product.

Erica Nemser

But None is how do you take a portfolio given that we have a platform and even if it were to be a None product. What are the areas that we can apply that platform in advance if you think of some of the challenges of carbon capture. You know it takes a lot of coordination. A market has to evolve. It’s essentially ah, an emission a controlled emission in most cases, the co two isn’t that valuable unlike other areas where you’re producing a product. So what we did is say where can we use that same platform. And work on products that do have value now where we have a unique offering our platform is highly competitive and start in those markets and basically bring the technologies out to market as the markets evolve and so that’s what we’re doing and and we saw it that way as a huge de-risking for the. The portfolio to be able to address other decarbon is um, like decarbonization applications before point source carbon capture.

James McWalter

I’m also curious about those other 29 parts of the of the portfolio. Um, and so I’d imagine some of those as you said are at various stages of of development from research to full commercialization I’m sure there was patents flying around. Ah you know were there any kind of close calls in terms of.

James McWalter

Going Maybe one of the others versus what you ended up focusing on sure.

Erica Nemser

Well part of it is. We’ll never know right things that I canceled early. We won’t I would say um, we were pretty rigorous and I’m very structured so I just put a framework on it to say you know. How much of a contribution is this in terms of addressing a need. That’s not addressed now how unique is it? How big is the market and how many what I’ll call for the engineers the nested if statements it could be huge but None ifs have to occur out in in the world. You know that’s a lot of risk. And so if you’re waiting for a whole um process or a whole sector of the economy to change and then they’re going to adopt something and if they adopt that then they’re going to want to adopt ours. That’s really risky so we basically use that kind of filtering system to say you know what’s going to matter. We don’t you know. We’re swinging for the fences we don’t need to to bring a metoo technology that’s incrementally better for an application that’s not on the top 3 list of someone’s things they need to solve so we were really aiming at that and you know. As cool as it could be if some of these things could do a job that other technologies could do. It’s just not It’s not a swinging for the fences kind of game.

James McWalter

So and so that decision is made then you know over five years ago five so five seven years ago and it’s like okay we’re we’re going to develop this now into a commercialized product that has some sort of you know, profound effect on climate.

Erica Nemser

Um, I mean yeah..

James McWalter

I Guess could you get into details of what the product is and how it works. Yeah.

Erica Nemser

The initial application was for olafen Paraffin separation which is a workhors separation in the petrochemical space the file the the and that’s the partner to the carbon capture separation technology. So if you think about if we focus in on the carbon capture piece and I’m happy to come back to the olaens one. But if you focus into the carbon capture piece where we’re looking is at well starting at point source carbon capture recognizing we can expand from there to direct air capture adjacencies and things like that. The.

Erica Nemser

Focus of point source carbon capture is is basically many of the things that we want and need in in this world. Can’t easily be moved to electric sources of power. So everyone’s familiar with electric cars that if you buy an electric car. And then you source that electricity electricity from a renewable source like wind or solar. You’re no longer producing any co 2 that’s going into the atmosphere. You’ve completely taken that out of your equation but many of the things that we want to need like steel for buildings. Meant for roads for those electric cars heating systems large and small a small one would be like the None in our house if if you live in ah in a part of the world that requires heating in the winter. Um and a large heating system would be something that’s in a plant or a commercial commission building. Those don’t always have an easy pass to get into a purely electric nonco None generating system. But we all contemplate a future where we’re going to have continue to have steel and cement and buildings. So how do we address them as soon as possible. That we’re enabling a transition and not just saying okay when they adopt some futuristic technology in 30 years then they’re not going to be emitting but what can we do right now. So point source carbon capture is going after the emission stack of those processes for most people you can think of the emission stack like the flu gas. Comes out of your own home heating system if you have a boiler or furnace in your basement. So large processes are not that different. They have a low pressure large volume of emissions that are going up mostly nitrogen but a lot of co 2 and so what we aim to do is go grab those out of those processes. Um, because those are processes that either don’t have a way to become electrified and we’re stuck with them for a really long time or they’re not going to change over for twenty or thirty years as that very expensive capital gets to end of life and be replaced so how do we go and grab that co 2.

James McWalter

And so let’s let’s take a cement factory as as a kind of example that I think comes up quitet a lot with point source carbon capture. Ah you know for the listener you have these very large factories. You can kind of picture the big chimney with you know, producing all the that CO two and smoke and.

Erica Nemser

Right now.

Erica Nemser

Me me. Yep.

James McWalter

All these other kind of wonderful compounds that we’re all inhaling and so on and so extracting the carbon from that to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions is obviously very important So how does your technology get integrated with an existing system like that to kind of maximize that carbon capture and.

Erica Nemser

Sure so what we do is we bolt onto that emissions stream and pull the co 2 out and and I think that’s not the tremendous novelty of coming up with the idea that one could tap into the flu gas dream and extract the C O two the novelty and the real contribution of Cms. Is being the lowest cost way to do that because that co 2 is not particularly valuable so it really is how do you do it cheaply and people are talking about aiming at $20 a ton carbon capture now everyone knows what you can buy for $20 being able to produce anything for $20 a ton.

Erica Nemser

Is a really big challenge and the way that we do that is with a novel Membrane that doesn’t need a lot of the heat electricity pressure and things that other systems do you know to step back into the world of separations and put that in the context of the overall. Energy consumption in the world If you take it look at just the Us The industry uses about a None of the of the power that’s generated the energy drawdown in the Us about a and industry takes about a None of that about half of that is just doing separations. It’s not making the material we need or powering the things we want. It’s separating the things we want to a pure enough state to use them and the way we’ve always done that historically is to use a lot of heat or a lot of pressure to do that. Those are energy hogs. You can you know. For most people you know industries far away and that’s because the industrial revolution taught us that if you want to do these things efficiently. You got to do them at scale and then you got to throw all this energy in and to do it. You know if you know anything about distillation is separation for alcohol. That’s a good reference point you boil stuff and you separate it. We have a membrane that works at low pressure and low energy. So We don’t need to put a lot of that into the system so we can go grab that CO two out of the ah the emission stack of a cement plant or another plant without needing a whole new power plant.

James McWalter

Right? And so thoses some of the other proposals because ah yeah, very little ah point source carving capture is is at scale right today but a lot of the are kind of pilot programs and so on some might be using a membrane some might be using other technologies but they’re typically trying to put a a current through a.

Erica Nemser

To be able to do it.

James McWalter

Ah, substance or a membrane. Um, as you said there’s heat requirements often maybe needs to be in a high pressure environment which also uses a ton of electricity and so just to kind of I guess for my own. Yeah, imagining it so membrane you know any surface that allows some things to go through it and other things not to go through it right? And so.

James McWalter

Literally something like your technology would be literally across the you know a part of the car of the cement manufacturing and so it would be allowing I guess some gases through but not the greenhouse gas emissions themselves through is that the idea.

Erica Nemser

Correct so you can imagine pumping something into a membrane. Um, and you pump it through a membrane system. Um, which and here we’re talking about pumping not compressing to create a lot of fresh air just moving it across the membrane and you get None streams that come out right um. 1 stream is the co 2 concentrated stream and one in the case of flu gas is the nitrogen rich stream. That’s just nitrogen is right back into the air so you can take that concentrated co 2 stream and then either use it or sequester. It.

James McWalter

It’s super interesting and so so you are getting the concentrated CO 2 screen it’s not actually connecting to the membrane directly. It’s it’s actually becoming a raw material that could be kind of redirected.

Erica Nemser

Correct. It’s not being absorbed into the membrane. The membrane is just working to to create those 2 separate streams.

James McWalter

That’s that’s really cool because again a lot of the other point source capture technologies I’ve read up on. They will often degrade because they are actually binding to the CO 2 molecules over time and and and that’s one of the kind of main ways and so there’s a lot of scrubbing that has to occur in order to have a turnover of COTwo in those.

James McWalter

Yeah Flus and so on.

Erica Nemser

Correct or they’re absorbing and absorbing so you have a multi-step process whereas a membrane is just a continuous process. It just continuously separating those.

James McWalter

And and so I guess where where is the product in today in terms of you know moving towards kind of commercialization.

Erica Nemser

So the initial application which I mentioned was in petrochemical plant is now in a demonstration scale. It’s already been validated in the field at one refinery and it’s now in partnership with Bras Kem in a demonstration plant. There. We are right now looking for the demonstration partner who wants to work with us on some of these initial applications for carbon capture. The membranes themselves are produced at commercial scale already right? So the technology itself is scaled up and now it’s ready for the field.

James McWalter

That’s that’s super exciting and I guess there’s a couple things when I’ve seen pilot technologies being deployed particularly things that have you know, hardware or physical component. So one is just does it work at all right? and then the None well one is can you produce that scale which which you mentioned you’re already doing.

James McWalter

Second is does it work at all and then third does it work at the kind of economic like level that makes the unit economics you know, pencil out. Um at least initially I mean it’t not to be perfect right? because these are demonstration plans but eventually as it gets to scaled will those unit economics get to a level that you know make financial sense.

James McWalter

And so I guess with with that None demonstration plant that that you’ve already kind of out there. How has it hit those kind of 3 categories in terms of effectiveness right.

Erica Nemser

I love this question because it was one of the things that I pushed the team on even five years ago right which is there’s a big difference between having a proof of concept technology and having a product and having a profitable product so one of the. None things that we did is is address those 3 things right? which is you know does it work. Well you know and we’re talking about using different chemistries for separation. So which chemistries do we like and do they do the separation. What does it look like to scale up so let’s work on this scale up out of the gate. Right? Let’s not look at we can make something you know a None by None square and then double that and double that and double that again, right? like we need to jump to the um to the end result which is can we make square kilometers of it consistently? um and then the next thing. That we sorry you’re gonna have to edit that so me to go back? Yeah, so the None was manufacturing to say look it’s not efficient to sort of make these leaps of can we go from tiny to a square foot to five Square feet

James McWalter

So that’s fine. Yeah, you can just start the the previous like thought and and we’ll we’ll fix it. Yeah.

Erica Nemser

Because then you’re scaling up Forever. You need to answer the question is it manufacturable and so we took that on very very quickly and early in the process to say we need to be able to show that we can make sort of hundreds of meters squared and know that we’re we’re doing that efficiently and the third was the economics there needs to be a pathway. Where we’re delivering for the customer and for us profitably from the get go. So yes, these Membrane Modules Even at this initial scale um are profitable for us profitable for the customer and deliver deliver value and. And can be done and I think that’s something that not every technologist sees out of the gate that it’s not just um about the technology it and is not about a lot of the stories I see which are technology is Amazing. Dot Dot Dot Market dominance.

James McWalter

Sure profit. Yeah.

Erica Nemser

Okay,, there’s a lot in that nut exactly there’s a lot in http://that.dotdot and and and really knowing right Now. For example, the existing technology can do $70 a ton carbon capture. It has a clear pathway to $40 a ton and then $20 a ton there from there at larger applications. That means we’re out of the gate at a really nice spot and not coming out of the gate at you know we can do $600 a ton and it’s some mystery of how we’re going to get to the to the south of a None.

James McWalter

That right? That’s that’s very interesting and then I guess None thing then that comes to mind is how this is developed in terms of a you know for the customer is this like a capital expenditure primarily or is there. Ah, also op x where and I guess how involved are you. Are you involved with yeah being that that contact point to the customer forever or are they buying the material incorporating into their process and then you know whatever the time frameme for when because all materials all memb. The grades. You know it’s not not I’m sure a none material but you know at some point and needs to be replaced.

James McWalter

That you then step back in or how does that kind of process are you planning or thinking about that process. So.

Erica Nemser

It’s an interesting question. So I think there were 2 questions in there. The first is is there calf x and offs. Yes, there’s both you know, just because we don’t need a huge amount of compression. They’re still moving parts right? So you’re still using some power to to be able to just move that volume of air.

Erica Nemser

And then you sort of ask the business model question of how do we get involved and so we’re looking at this now as a developing market that we could play many different roles and we’re developing the strategic partnerships with the relevant organizations to be able to do that. We have commercial modules now. We sell those commercial modules out in the market. Some of those directly to customers and systems some of those to oems who use those as components and other products we can continue to do both of those right? These are much much larger systems. So obviously it means partnering with an an Epc firm. To be able to do the builds but there are many different models from there. We can sell the system to them and you know they’ve got it and it’s running. There are also models out in the market where they don’t right? They’re just leasing it or they’re having someone operate and we sit in on it. We’re open to all of those recognizing that for other analogous markets. You can look at biogas um, you can look at solar and say there are a host of different different Mark different models that customers find valuable. Some people want to own the solar panels on their roof. They’re totally fine with the capital expense. They love it. Others don’t want to to get involved in that. And what they’re they’re basically leasing out their roof right in return for a payment all of those models are are successful and we can envision for some customers who like process technologies they may want to buy it and own it and operate it. You can imagine anyone who’s comfortable with oil and gas processes. They would want to do that others less. So. Cement plants for example, landfills.

James McWalter

And we’re mostly talking about these very very large industrial posteses. But when you’re kind of talking about some of the other hard to decarbonize sectors economy you mentioned things like home boilers and so on is that Also in mind that that’s also a potential area I mean maybe not right now but down the road like once.

James McWalter

I Guess there’s a kind of particular focus on industrials. Also some of those kind of smaller scale applications.

Erica Nemser

Absolutely I would say one of the beautiful and amazing things about membranes is theyre they’re modular. They’re completely modular all the membrane people will roll their eyes when I say this so they can close their ears for a None but you can imagine it like a filter cartridge right? And so.

James McWalter

Culture.

Erica Nemser

It’s for a small application. You need 1 or 2 for a large Application. You may need one hundred So the the virtue of that is it scales down beautifully to some of these smaller applications without losing efficiency and so when we talk to folks in the field. Even folks who have competing technologies. They recognize that those technologies don’t scale down well and that’s where they are interested in partnering and with us and working with us recognizing that membranes are the way to go when you’re building something that’s cost less than $100000000 for a separation system right.

James McWalter

And and that that makes sense and then you know we we talked about having this ah output of the C O Two you know there are these kind of 2 options that you touched upon one c o two could be then go back into some other industrial process COTwo is a feedstock gas for a lot of different chemicals.

James McWalter

Um, but then also it could be ah pumped somewhere and and stored and so as you think about that. What do you think considered like the breakdown of that will be at scale because there’s some concerns about both paths like where do you store all the CO two and then also is there actually enough like applications in in in the world too.

Erica Nemser

So let’s starts and I.

James McWalter

Had to do absorb all the COTwo will be extracting from traditionally CO two emitting processes and so yeah, how how do you think about that balance and with how thing will pan out.

Erica Nemser

Oh that’s a great prognostication question. So we’re gonna have to listen to this in 10 years to see how right I was um so I think it’s gonna be a yes and I think that you’re going to have uses and uses as.

James McWalter

Sure exactly.

Erica Nemser

And storage right? where they’re mixed so you can think of the processes where people are embedding the co 2 in cement to create a superior product right? That’s both a use kind of and ah in ah, a storage that’s really appealing. Um, but I think you’re going to have both I think we’re going to end up having to use. Um. Underground sequestration because there simply aren’t enough uses that people can identify now. So it’s you know what? that pie chart looks like and what the mix is I don’t know but I think um, the most important thing in my mind is how do we get the impact. On the planet as quickly as possible by removing the CO o two that’s there and reducing the amount that’s going in. So if in the short term that’s storage with some usage and over time that becomes more usage storage applications and less underground storage great but let’s not. You know, let’s not lose sight of the big picture of what we’re trying to achieve.

James McWalter

Yeah, it’s it’s interesting. Yeah I would imagine like the large use case for point SourceCO capture for at least a decade if not twice that is retrofits to existing. Ah yeah, emit emitting emitting factories. But 1 of the I guess the the issues is a lot of those are not maybe located.

Erica Nemser

Was correct and then.

James McWalter

Ideally from a ah yeah, storage underground point of view or even co-located with the consumer consumers of c two I’m sure there are None of factories enough to get to be a big company. Um off the existing. Um you know stock of factories that need this conversion. But yeah, how how do you think about? and I think you mentioned earlier that yeah in the industrial revolution. We.

James McWalter

Developed industry and in certain areas in a particular way how having a more kind of circular ability to reabsorb the carbon is going to affect how industry is actually deployed from a location point of view.

Erica Nemser

Oh another great question I love this I mean the industrial revolution taught us to centralize to to gain efficiency but membranes are just None technology that’s becoming more modular. Mean there are thousands out there and everyone’s recognizing the more modular and efficiency you can get at small scale then you don’t have to solve this transportation other problem of like we’re going to move everything to 1 central location. We’re going to work on it and then we’re goingnna send it back out to everyone. So I think that cracks that open really widely. It’s not just us. Well. We’ll start to see that they’re smaller scale production. That’s as efficient as larger scale hopefully and not not solving this big transportation challenge because that’s another giant consumer of energy right? is transportation. But.

James McWalter

Right up and when I look at your ah your website look you have kind of different applications of you know cnss technology and 1 of them was renewable metric gas if you speak to that? Um, use case.

Erica Nemser

Sure so that’s also a C O 2 separation that’s cotwo and methane. So if you think about one of the the applications that we originally tested this technology in the field was actually in biogas so you know human beings produce. Um. CO 2 and methane as do animals and so everything that we we use ends up producing biogass and anything in in a landfill produces biogass farms produce biogass et cetera so there’s a big movement now to capture both of the products that come out of that the methane which is. Kind of negative impact on the environment in terms of of warming. It’s a more potent greenhouse gas in the short term than co 2 and then use that upgrade that methane to pipeline quality and sort of displace. Ah, methode that we’re using and similarly capture the c o two so that’s what fundamentally that application is and that’s where where we originally tested the technology to to say you know can it be valuable here.

James McWalter

That super cool and you know you are starting to add those kind of early potential clients and customers and so one of the things that I think has been interesting over the last couple of years is how different pressure points are driving. Need to decarbonize across different industries and those pressure points vary in terms of intensity across different industries. But they’re broadly something like regulatory in some way. Um activism in some way sometimes it’s consumer driven. Um, but a lot of what’s happening in.

James McWalter

Industry seems to be driven by things like the divestment letter from Black Rock a couple of years ago and yeah, every company looking at how theyy they are and seeing when are we going to get divestment. You know how are we placing on these esg indices and so on um, but there’s a huge amount of industrial customers who are.

James McWalter

Not public companies and are kind of this middle market space and so as you talk to potential users of your technology. What’s driving their decision-making and even wouldn’t the organization themselves who are the decision makers like is it still within you know the small. And of off to None side sustainability group or is it starting to have larger effects by other members of the executive team and.

Erica Nemser

Great question so and fascinating to me because I started my career doing work in economics and and getting a ph d in economics and it’s fascinating to me how much access to capital and capital markets are actually moving this one. Versus regulatory or something else. Um, we could have a whole podcast about that. But the um, it’s changed in the last five or six years so I would say five or six years ago when we talked about separation technologies with any customer. It was always what’s the value that you’re creating in dollar terms and then just say something about the impact on the environment right? And hopefully it’s a positive thing and the um. At that point it wasn’t even esg right? It was environmental and safety were sort of the we lump together because you couldn’t sell anything based on the environmental impact that was not a driver. The economics were and the return to the business or the drivers. That’s definitely shifted. And so now what you’re seeing is that decision making is not a side that’s being driven from the top of the house. Um, so in some sense. It’s created more focus but in another way, it’s created a little bit more chaos as organizations are trying to figure out. How they organize and how they think and how they make decisions in this new environment. So they’re much more open to the discussions and it’s definitely more of a strategic driver but to your question about being a decision maker I think they’re trying to figure out what their business many of them. What their business model looks like.

Erica Nemser

And how significant of a change is this and when do they have to adopt so they’re they’re on that pathway to to determining who the decision makers are.

James McWalter

Right? And and because it’s such a large amount of emissions and because even if these industrial processes are usually not super high margin but the actual dollars are just so massive. Um, again these yeah, these are the building blocks of you know every single thing that we.

Erica Nemser

Lift me and then.

James McWalter

Ah, you know eat. Ah you know, watch like plastics all these kind of things are derived from these processes. The um are starting to see these other potential ah solution sets coming in and you know saying Okay, why not try to.

James McWalter

Think about things in quite a different way and so one of them is is hydrogen. Um, and so saying let’s say move to a different process where the the actual you know, generation of heat and so on um, is if it’s green hydrogen. Um, you know, carbonutral and so on how do you think about how those other initiatives.

James McWalter

I Guess enhance or maybe competitive with cms.

Erica Nemser

There with all things. It’s both I would say the focus on hydrogen is is definitely creating near term value because and I think there’s true value in in hydrogen there’s existing hydrogen processes. That because there’s a focus on green hydrogen are facing pressure to convert to be blue hydrogen and for those of your listeners who don’t know blue hydrogen is when you you take an existing process. That’s that’s emitting cotwo and you modify it in a way to do some carbon capture. But it’s not inherently. Um, not engaged in the process of of combusting anything so the process that’s used for that is steam methane reforming. So there’s a lot of focus on how do we think about and convert the existing hydrogen production to be more towards that green spectrum and. And and capture the carbon so that creates a lot of demand and a lot of focus for us. Those are great applications in the long term hydrogen any new hydrogen plants that are going in and new stacks of hydrogen will most likely be green right? It’ll be using the the electroizer and other pathways. And you know I think that’s vitally important at the end of the day you know, let’s focus on the right things which is if we can be a part of making a pathway for reducing carbon emissions today. That’s great for cms. It’s great for industry to reduce those emissions. It’s great for the planet if I could have a button that would turn all that off. Um but cms couldn’t exist I would still push the button right? and say we’ll just stop emitting emitting c o two. Um, you know that’s the swing at the fences thing. So.

Erica Nemser

Recognize our role is in these transition processes and our role will be in other separations going in the future we have applications related to food and produce stability right? feeding the planets a big application biobased materials that need separations right. Our ambition here is to focus on the most important separations where we can add a lot of value in the near term that’s cotwo and a host of other ones what that looks like in 20 years will be be other ones and hopefully we can teach the world. What it what it looks like to do great. Scale up of innovative technologies.

James McWalter

And it’s interesting as as you’re tratting there I was like if you were in the Memran space. You’re like long complexity specialization and entropy right? because as the economy becomes more so you know more more complex. Ah more specialized. You just need ever greater separation of.

James McWalter

Different substances to produce new materials in various ways and so yeah I So I think it’s like kind of this fascinating piece and I guess one aspect that I think you know it’s a ton of smart people kind of trying to pour into working on climate in various ways and a lot of people are bringing a lot of different skill sets and. You know, looking at problems in new ways that that is incredibly exciting. But I’ve done huge amounts of ah research on on different climate ideas before I ended up starting my own startup um in something completely unrelated and honestly Membranes never came up and I looked at it a lot and so as you kind of look at the you know the climate landscape and. You the innovation landscape and how those 2 things are intersecting where are areas of it’s like okay, some smart people should be working more on these things. There’s actually a huge gap in the amount of innovation that could be occurring mainly just because they’re such kind of behind the scenes processes that people are not aware of them.

Erica Nemser

Oh Obviously I would say membranes. But um, you know there are new new chemical processes to make the things that we want right from different feedstocks I think that’s kind of the big breakthrough. Because right now as we all See. We’re really dependent in manufacturing everything that we want from the historical processes a lot of them very oil and gas Fossil Fuel dependent and so. A lot of energy is pouring in I don’t know if it needs more energy pouring in but you have great companies like lanza tech working on how do we create biological and other processes to do manufacturing right? That’s a piece that Biotech has owned for the focus on. Therapeutics right? The Biotech Pharma model of how do we capture the natural world of bugs that can produce things that are interesting for us. Not just chemical processes I would love to see that translated more aggressively to this environment and you’re starting to see some of that. But that’s like a real real unlock. And they’ll still need separations at the end of the day.

James McWalter

Absolutely well we we we could start growing concrete and and and all these kind of things right? Um, we and we we’ve had a few algae companies on on the podcast over last year and you know it’s It’s a could be exciting um like.

Erica Nemser

Exactly algae to the rescue I mean.

Erica Nemser

Yeah, exactly biology is a lot of amazing machines for us. We maybe we need to stop thinking about how we’re the most amazing machine creators and work with some of those.

James McWalter

Ah, yeah, classic replacements and all that kind of thing.

James McWalter

Yeah, we have a few hundred years of making machines. Biology has a little little longer. Um and and you know we we talked a little bit about how you’re you’re coming out of a management consulting and and your background in Phg in economics and so on and then moving into in you know, seven years ago talking to.

James McWalter

But sounds like just a very very hardcore R and D team and one of the fascinating things that a lot of companies struggle with but the the best companies do really well is figuring out how to translate those different. Ah faction might be too hard. But yeah, those different kind of perspectives on building things. You know.

James McWalter

Teams that are very very R and D focused versus coming from a you know more commercialization Monetization point of view have you thought about ah how ways you know people coming from either side could do a better job of you know, being that translation there communicating better so that you know the the summation of. Both of those creative ways of of tacking problems build something greater than some of its whole. Yeah.

Erica Nemser

Absolutely I would say I’m a big proponent of diversity in teams and by that I mean sort of all modes of diversity but experiences thought process as ways of working are some of the most critical. So. What you see in companies. That’s I’ll call the easy path is I’m 2 people that I want to be 4 people I want to be None people and I want people like me because then I can communicate easily with them and that’s very comfortable and easy when you start out, but it doesn’t create a robust organization because you’re just spiky in the same strengths. You’re not. Developing a broad set of strengths so it can create a little bit of tension with a communication because you’re speaking different languages and you got to learn those other languages but it does bring something to the team. You know my co for example, at Cms. Very different profile from mine almost perfectly the opposite but that’s perfect for what the organization needs right? He’s an operations guy. He’s been in oil and gas for 30 years he knows all about large scale systems and he’s a detail oriented operator where I’m a high level. Strategists thinking about how we’re going to navigate through the ecosystem. Those are 2 very powerful things and they need to come together. So I would say it’s worth the investment in figuring out how to communicate across that divide because it’s going to be crucial to execution in the in the long term.

James McWalter

Yeah, there’s this concept that ah like a previous mentor kind of talked to me which is as you start kind of managing people or building teams like the perfect world is you just are constantly exposes to pleasant surprises right? and a lot of managers are like I don’t want surprises like that’s that’s a terrible thing did that surprise me.

James McWalter

But ah, yeah, obviously the certain surprises are not ideal but the pleasant surprise where it’s like they figure you know a direct report or somebody in the team figures out a way of doing something that you basically would never have thought of right and it’s better than anything. You could have thought of and it literally would have been possible for you to figure it out in that way because they’re bringing all these different perspectives and and diversity of thought and so on to it.

Erica Nemser

Um, right? okay.

James McWalter

Um, it’s just one of those kind of wonderful and magical things and I think you know removing None ne’s own ego from ah how a team should should exactly look um you know and and an act in certain contexts I think is something that you know a lot of people in leadership positions are startup um, you know early founder. Positions like really struggle with and I think you know I guess I echo your your message that being able to kind of navigate that um and leave a little bit of the ego at the door and be like okay I’m looking for that diversity of thought and those pleasant surprises is really powerful. Yeah.

Erica Nemser

Absolutely look if cms is relying on Erica to be the best chemical engineer that we have we’re in real trouble right? That’s that’s exactly that’s I would say talent is really important at the end of the day. The organization is just the talent you have.

James McWalter

I right? It’s like where’s my lab coach.

Erica Nemser

You know and what they can do with the ip in generating more ip but like at the center of that is the is the people and so one of the things I’m also passionate about is how do we How do we think like large industrial players and if you look at our team. We’ve got folks that came from those large industrial organizations so we do. We understand our customers and we develop technologies and products that they’re going to want to use but we have the nimbleness and things of a startup and None of the elements of nimbleness that you brought up is decision making. I call at the bench I’m a big advocate of how do we enable people to do smart decision making at the bench. We want natural owners and problem solvers at every level. It shouldn’t be I collected this information now I’m going to shoot it up to the chat for the organization and they’re going to make decisions and tell me what to do next. Yes, there’s an element of that and we need to understand what’s going on but we unleash the power of the talent we have when they’re smart capable owners who make smart decisions in their day-to-day work and make those kind of discoveries and my job is to clear the path for them and get out of the way.

James McWalter

It right? I mean you can imagine like a large ship and everybody yeah working out in the ship and it’s like if if if if the people at the bridge are like fielding you know should I put salt on the food should I pull that Lever should I flush that toilet that’s that’s not ah, a very well run you know ship.

Erica Nemser

Great, No not and not a lot of trust there going on either.

James McWalter

Um, ah absolutely and and trust is everything Well Eica This has been absolute great. Really enjoyed the conversation. Is there anything I should have asked you about but did not.

Erica Nemser

I would say the 2 things that are on my mind the most right now as we move forward are one capital rays we’re in the middle of so if anyone found this interesting I’d love to chat. And the second is getting the demonstrations up and carbon capture. So if you have a carbon capture application and you love a co 2 system I’d love a chat on that as well.

James McWalter

So brilliant and we’ll include some contact details in the show notes. Thank you eica.

Erica Nemser

Thank you.

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