It was October 2018. The United Nations’ IPCC had just released its most dire report yet on the fate of the planet. Its unambiguous conclusion: climate change is an existential threat to humanity.
That same month, Y Combinator, the storied Silicon Valley accelerator, known for launching such iconic businesses as Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and Stripe, put out a call-to-action to founders. Pitch us your carbon removal startups, they said. “It’s time to take big swings at this.”
Rob McGinnis had been thinking for a while that it should be possible to make fuel from CO2 in the air. All the technical pieces were nearly in place. But when he saw Y Combinator’s request for startups, he knew it was time to act.
McGinnis pitched them Prometheus, a company that would pull the planet-warming CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into zero net carbon gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. This net emissions-free fuel would be molecularly identical to fossil fuels, but much cleaner, because it wouldn’t contain sulfur, benzene, or any of the heavy metals that contaminate fuels extracted from the earth. It would drop seamlessly into our existing oil-and-gas infrastructure, filling up the tanks of our existing cars and trucks, the fuselages of our existing planes, no retrofits required. Crucially, Prometheus’s fuels would also both compete with fossil fuels on price and sell at a profit.
Prometheus was accepted to Y Combinator as one of only two carbon removal startups out of dozens of applicants. McGinnis got to work building the prototype that would become the first Titan fuel forge. Five months later, on March 18th, 2019, McGinnis officially launched Prometheus at Y Combinator’s bi-annual Demo Day at Pier 48 in San Francisco, California. Before an international audience of thousands of investors, he walked through his novel, patented process for turning atmospheric CO2 into fuels, step by step. “It can sound like magic,” he told them, “but it’s really just chemistry.” Less than a week later, Prometheus closed its seed round.
Check out our original promo, which debuted on Demo Day.