The Element of Change is in the Air

Carbon transformation is the new imperative for the climate era.

6 min readJul 8, 2021


A letter from Twelve Co-founders, Dr. Kendra Kuhl, Dr. Etosha Cave, and Nicholas Flanders.

When it comes to addressing climate change, carbon isn’t our nemesis. To the contrary, we see carbon as the element of change. Carbon is the building block of life, and it’s also the feedstock for the materials, chemicals, and fuels that keep our world moving.

The Element of Change

A World Made From Air Not Oil

The problem isn’t carbon itself, it’s that we’re using ancient carbon to power our modern world, which leads to a climate-warming imbalance of CO₂ in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are the source of carbon for almost everything around you, from the foam in running shoes, to automobile dashboards, to aviation fuel, to laundry detergent. As the standard of living increases for billions, our consumption of these goods will only grow, and therefore so will our demand for petrochemicals, accelerating climate change.

But what if we had a large-scale alternative to fossil carbon? We do. It’s in the air.

The Shiny Black Leaf that Eats CO2

Twelve transforms CO₂ emissions into the building blocks for essential products that are currently made from fossil fuels. Now, instead of using fossil carbon to make everyday products, we can use renewable carbon from CO₂. As a result, we can reduce global emissions while manufacturing products at the same or higher quality as conventional products made from petrochemicals. No tradeoffs in safety, performance, or efficacy.

Carbon transformation reduces emissions from supply chains, closes the carbon loop, and provides a viable pathway to a fossil-free future. Using CO₂ in place of fossil fuels in Twelve’s target applications could address nearly 10 percent of global carbon emissions.

Meet O12

Meet O12, our carbon transformation technology

Our core technology is an electrochemical reactor we call O12. It performs a process that can be described as industrial photosynthesis: like a shiny black leaf, it uses proprietary catalysts to transform CO₂ into new products, using just water and electricity as inputs. Pure oxygen is our only byproduct. O12 achieves the same CO₂-transforming power as 37,000 trees, or 64 football fields of dense forest, in a module the size of a suitcase.

Our carbon transformation devices drop into existing supply chains and manufacturing processes and connect to any source of CO₂ emissions. This means we can connect directly to the source of industrial emissions, allowing industrial emitters to create new value from what today is discarded as waste. Our technology also works with direct air capture, turning legacy CO₂ that has been removed from the atmosphere into new products.

Carbon Transformation is the New Business Transformation

Carbon transformation for brands means replacing the petrochemicals in their products, supply chains, and operations with CO2Made(R) materials and fuels. CO2Made materials and fuels allow brands to reduce their carbon footprint without compromising safety, performance or efficacy.

In contrast to carbon offset programs, Twelve’s technology directly reduces a partner’s emissions while replacing the petrochemicals in its products and supply chains with CO2Made materials and fuels. Our carbon transformation devices drop into existing manufacturing processes and integrate seamlessly at any scale.

Making things from air not oil means we can eliminate emissions from everyday products, making CO2Made the new normal — because every product should be a climate-conscious one. Every company needs a carbon transformation strategy.

A New Category of Carbon Management

Carbon transformation is a new category that is distinct from carbon capture and storage (CCS) and utilization (CCU), which are both important levers in our limited window to address climate change. Carbon transformation provides an enduring carbon management solution by eliminating the need for fossil carbon in chemicals, materials, and fuels.

CCS involves storing or mineralizing captured CO₂ emissions in underground reservoirs or rock formations. CCU includes processes where CO₂ is utilized without changing its molecular structure, most commonly today in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). EOR involves injecting CO₂ into oil wells to produce more oil. The resulting oil has a lower carbon footprint than conventional oil.

Carbon transformation involves changing CO₂ into new, more commercially useful forms of carbon. It achieves a 1:1 replacement of fossil carbon in the products that are made, which enables both a reduction in emissions and a long-term transition away from fossil fuels. Carbon transformation happens directly at the customer site, without requiring specific geology nearby. By creating a revenue stream from waste, it creates a market-driven solution to carbon emissions.

Our Journey from Invention to Expansion

Reinventing what it means to be a chemical company in the climate era, we’re on a mission to create a climate-positive world and a fossil-free future through the power of chemistry and engineering.

Our journey as Twelve began in 2015 at Stanford University with an ambition to solve climate change by transforming our biggest climate threat, CO₂, into our greatest untapped solution. Kendra and Etosha had developed field-leading knowledge of CO₂ electrocatalysis during our PhDs, and our founding technology vision was to translate that fundamental scientific understanding into the world’s first scalable, industrially-robust, and cost-competitive CO₂ transformation device.

We three co-founders pursued our invention, with no certainty that our technology concept would work. For months and long hours as Activate Fellows at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we iterated on our formulation, seeking the first sliver of evidence that our now-patented approach to scalable CO₂ electrolysis would work. It came late one night in one giant leap: a 10X improvement in one experiment. That was the spark that our chemistry and engineering teams have expanded ever since, and we’ve advanced our performance by orders of magnitude since that moment on our relentless march toward a solution whose economics beat fossil fuels without carbon pricing.

No single person could invent O12. Our technology integrates novel catalysts, materials and hardware in ways without precedent, and as a result our team combines multiple scientific and engineering disciplines for the first time. Our team culture is collaborative and transparent by necessity and by design: we are a learning machine pioneering an entirely new industry. Our doors are open to the very best talent from all backgrounds, and we’d love to hear from you as we expand our team.

Our Vision is Clear: The Future is Fossil Free

We envision a future where we never again pull fossil carbon from the ground. We see a future where carbon is circular: harvested from the air and from landfills to produce new products using clean energy. It’s a future as nature might design it, with renewable energy from the sun powering an entire ecosystem based on CO₂ and water as raw materials: a future powered by industrial photosynthesis. That future is cleaner, quieter, smells fresher, and distributes resources more equitably.

In that future we imagine, fossil fuels are museum artifacts and oil derricks are rusting relics of a time before we had invented a better way.

Three Core Beliefs Guide Our Growth

We are bringing our technology to the world’s biggest brands, manufacturers, and industrial emitters to give them a powerful tool to meet their climate goals. As we continue to grow our team and our partnerships, scale our technology and increase our impact, we are guided by three core beliefs:

We are here to build a fossil-free future.

Our technology is a critical missing piece to closing the carbon loop to create fossil-free materials and energy systems.

It takes everybody.

In order to reach 2030 and 2050 goals to keep global warming on a sub-2-degree pathway, it’s going to take everyone and every approach working together. Carbon transformation is a critical part of a comprehensive climate strategy. Just like electric vehicles, our impact is accelerated by the deployment of low carbon electricity around the world. We are energized by everyone innovating climate solutions, and we seek to collaborate with partners that have a shared vision for building a fossil- free, climate positive future.

We can do this.

We are clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead and embrace with enthusiasm and determination the audacity of the effort required. Together, we can build a resilient, regenerative, abundant future for all.

Twelve was founded in 2015 by Dr. Etosha Cave, Dr. Kendra Kuhl, and Nicholas Flanders, who met as graduate students at Stanford University. Formerly Opus 12, Twelve is based in Berkeley, California. Twelve refers to the Carbon-12 isotope, the most abundant form of the element that amounts to 98.93% of the carbon on Earth. More information at




We’re a new kind of chemical company built for the climate era, we make products from air, not oil. #CO2Made