Etosha Cave

June 4, 2024
5 min read

Early life

Dr. Etosha Cave is an American engineer, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Twelve (formerly Opus).  Twelve transforms CO2 into useful chemicals and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Etosha was born and raised in Houston. One of the early events that sparked her interest in renewable energy came from when she was young living in close proximity to an abandoned oil and gas site.

“I grew up adjacent to an abandoned oil and gas site. My family was not directly affected, but I saw all of it taking shape when I was a teen. It got me very passionate about environmental waste and reusable energy. That led me to become an engineer,” she said.

“I figure I’d use my personal talents, which were interests in math and science, to create an impact. I liked the structure and understanding that came with science and math,” she described. 1

The abandoned site raised many concerns for Cave. She noticed that the neglected site had been causing contamination in the water and was frustrated that no one paid attention. She states that the site had two main failure points; leaking tanks and water lines not secured from leaks. This occurrence altered her course towards building a future that had minimal industrial waste to protect the environment. Her early interest in science and maths coupled with her environmental concerns challenged her to approach difficult problems head on. Her dedication to the maths and sciences proved to be a strong suite during her early academic years and thus paved the path to continuing her education in science, starting Twelve, and pursuing her PhD.

Education

In high school, Etosha was an active member of her school’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) also gaining an NSBE Scholarship. Etosha attended Olin College of Engineering in 2006. Following her time at Olin, she entered the field and secured a job at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. In 2007 Cave went to Stanford University to pursue a master degree in engineering. Cave also completed a PHD in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University studying under the supervision of Thomas F. Jaramillo. Jaramillo, a world renown inventor and academic, was an excellent asset to Cave’s Phd research on solving how to repurpose CO2. In addition to her research, Cave also built a gas analysis system that determined the composition of electrochemical reactions in real time upon graduation.

Twelve

Etosha Cave Twelve

Cave founded Twelve during her time at Stanford University where she met Dr. Kendra Kuhl and Dr. Nicholas Flanders.

“I met Kendra when we were both working towards our PhD. Nicolas, I met at an MBS program at Stanford. They hosted a networking event and at the end, people could pitch their ideas to start a company. I pitched my idea and Nicolas was interested. We did a few competitions and incorporated the company,”1 she said.

The collaboration between Cave and her co-founders were instrumental in starting Twelve which was originally known as Opus12. Twelve makes PEM based CO2 electrolyzers. The electrolyzers are involved in CO2 electro reduction. Then transition metal catalysts are used to convert carbon dioxide into any molecules that can be made from carbon, hydrogen, or oxygen. This process addresses the emissions of CO2 already in the atmosphere and helps prevent further emissions thus helping reduce climate change. The technology at Twelve also has the ability to displace fossil fuels in existing supply chains and transform CO2 into products that are currently made from petrochemicals. Twelve has identified 16 different compounds that can be made from carbon dioxide, water and electricity. Some examples include Methane, Acetate, and Acetone. Billions of kg of these essential compounds are already produced in factories every year, and most often require fossil fuels for production. Twelve can make these high value products by harnessing CO2 waste instead of using depleting fossil fuels resources.

In 2020, Twelve demonstrated that its technology can be used to illustrate the future of carbon-negative automotive materials by building the world’s first C-pillar made with polycarbonate from CO2 electrolysis. The collaboration was with Mercedes-Benz Group and Trinseo, as a part of an initiative towards an entirely carbon-neutral vehicle fleet.

In 2021 the company had another groundbreaking achievement through their partnership with LanzaTech, a biotechnology company, to create polypropylene from CO2 emissions.1

The creation of polypropylene, a key polymer used for medical devices and other important applications, is typically made from petrochemicals. The outcome of the collaboration has proved that it can also be made from CO2, a feat that has never been achieved before.

Today the company is working on scaling its technology to produce at industrial levels. Twelve is currently in Series B funding with DCVC as its lead investor raising 130 million. It has done 6 rounds of funding and as of June 2022 the company raised a total of 199.4 million. Twelve employs about 174 people according to Linkedin. The team is composed of electrochemists, material scientists and engineers scouted from around the world.

“100 percent of new polypropylene in use worldwide is made from petrochemicals. We now have a way to produce this critical material from CO2 and water instead of from fossil fuels, with no tradeoffs in quality, efficacy or performance. Replacing all of the world’s fossil polypropylene production with CO2Made polypropylene would reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 700 million tons per year or more,”

Early Career

After receiving her Bachelors of Science in Engineering Cave deployed to Antarctica with the United States Antarctic Program and Raytheon Polar Services.  The USAP program is known for conducting high-quality science research in the antarctic region and recruits exceptional talent from all over the country. During her deployment, Cave tested open path laser diode spectrometers for development. This was done under a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to contribute towards the construction of a future Mars Rover. As a utilities technician and Intern, Cave also serviced and repaired HVAC systems for the station.  Before returning to school for her masters degree, Cave also interned at Lexmark International as an Engineering student. At Lexmark she carried out thermal analysis of cartridge toner seals.

Awards

Dr. Etosha Cave is part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.

BBVA envisions a vibrant Canadian technology ecosystem with significant participation from members of the Black community. We are on a mission to help establish 1000 successful, Black-led tech and tech-enabled businesses in Canada by 2030.

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