Reaching for Pre-Industrial Carbon Levels With Kelly Hering, CTO & Co-Founder at Charm Industrial

Kelly Hering is the CTO and co-founder at Charm Industrial, where she leads the engineering team developing their pyrolysis and gasification systems. Prior to Charm, she led the early upper stage design at Astra, a small rocket company, and the mechanical design at Planet for their constellation of Dove satellites. She studied mechanical engineering at Brown University.

One episode 147 of Bigger Than Us, Kelly goes in-depth on how Charm Industrial is striving for pre-industrial carbon levels, her personal mission to help people with the superpower of invention, encouragement for female engineers, and more!

By leading technological efforts to make bio-oil a viable solution for solving climate change and setting an example for girls in engineering, Kelly is having an effect that is Bigger Than Us. 

Take me to the podcast.

Starting with Service

Excerpts from a conversation with Kelly Hering on the Bigger Than Us podcast. These quotes have been edited for brevity and readability.

I went to a Catholic school. I’m not religious in any way. The Catholic Church is definitely surrounded by, “How do you serve others? How do you help others?” And I think my upbringing was surrounded by that both from different things like Girl Scouts and different work in school, or, as I got into engineering, it was engineering for social impact.

In high school, I worked on women’s and girls’ education, and social impact really got me into engineering as a whole. Once I really learned more and more about climate change, and was reached out to by a few friends to start thinking about this, I think it just became so much more apparent how far behind we were and how much we needed to do. And it was easy to throw all of your energy behind it when you saw that dire problem.

I’ve just learned a lot as an engineer, which has been really exciting for me. Changing from the space industry to the cleantech or climate tech industry has this whole new world of chemical engineering, which I hadn’t gotten to deepen in my studies and college.

What drives me really, though, is that we have this opportunity now to fix one of the world’s greatest failures, which is not addressing climate change earlier, and not giving ourselves the time to figure that out.

The Superpower of Invention Fixes a Failed Bio-oil Marketing Model

Thinking about how I could use the superpower of invention to help people was something that just really excited me throughout my entire life.

Charm Industrial has a mission to reduce global CO2 concentrations to 280 parts per million or pre-industrial era levels. A few friends and I were looking into ways to remove CO2 from the air profitably, and doing so in a way that we can actually say, “Hey, there’s a business who can actually sustain itself on saving the planet from this situation that we’ve found ourselves in,” which are the crippling effects of climate change.

We’re taking waste agricultural products like corn stover or wheat straw that’s typically bailed and then used for things like animal bedding, or perhaps it’s just burned for fuel or heat or it’s just left to rot on the field. We take that bale, we then chop it up into finer powders, we might dry it a little more as needed.

Then we insert it into a reactor that does this reaction called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is just the decomposition of things in the absence of oxygen. The cellulose and the lignin and the different concentrations that are in biomass are then broken down into basically long-chain hydrocarbon vapor in a reactor, and then we condense that vapor into a liquid. And then that liquid is effectively bio-oil.

People have actually tried to produce this bio-oil for many years now. Pyrolysis has been around for 40, maybe even 50 years. And it hasn’t really taken off, unfortunately. And that, I think, is mainly due to the fact that people have been trying to make it an alternative fuel. Bio-oil itself has a high water content, something on the order of 25% to 30%. And then it also has a high oxygen content, which isn’t great when you want to try to burn it as fuel.

Something different that Charm is doing is saying that perhaps the important part of this bio-oil is not the concept of it as a fuel replacement, but rather the concept of it is utilizing it for its carbon content. And so by putting it back underground, we’re effectively closing the oil cycle.

New Markets For Negative Emissions

How do we make sure that there are people to purchase those? We’re really thinking about what those new markets are, as opposed to thinking about it traditionally as, “Oh, we need to sell this bio-oil as a fuel,” we’re thinking, “Okay, well, we can sell it as negative emissions,” which drops the need for the quality of the bio-oil to be incredibly high to be injected into an engine.

At a glance, it’s really that we’re scaling this production of this liquid called bio-oil. And we’re scaling it to three new markets. First is the carbon removal market. People can choose to purchase negative emissions from us, where we produce bio-oil, and then we take that bio-oil and we pump it underground into different types of wells that will permanently sequester the bio-oil out of the biosphere on the order of 10,000 years that we would hope for in terms of carbon sequestration.

The other market is that we can take that bio-oil and convert it to syngas to decarbonize certain industrial processes like green steel production. And then we can also clean up that same gas and then turn it into, for example, industrial hydrogen, and then serve the decarbonization of industrial hydrogen markets like refineries or ammonia production.

If we think about what markets we’re targeting, and who can accept certain impurities, and then work from there on the technological innovations, that can push the process intensity and the cost-effectiveness, and the performance of any of those machines even further from there. We have something we know works, we can understand the logistics around it, and then we’ll continually improve that thing over time.

A Casual Chat: How to Save the World

Q: You said that you and some friends were sitting around thinking about how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere? Is that a conversation you have often?

A: I think that’s what a lot of conversations are if you’re watching the state of the world right now. It is something that I think people who have an awareness of some of these major problems that surround us and live in this world in San Francisco are constantly asking themselves.

Generally, the mission of trying to help the world globally, and to try to help people through social impact has always been something that really drove me. There is a place for the way that I think about the world and about the way that we think about building things. And if I can find the right type of people and the right environment where I feel comfortable sharing that, then that can be really powerful.

With all these new companies in the tech surrounding this area, you end up having this much more blue-sky thinking of, “We can do anything, what should we do?” And I think that can be naïve at times. But it also can be really exciting and accelerative, to push further and to really ask yourself those big questions.

Paving the Way for Girls in Engineering

There are ways to learn and ways to entertain yourself, even as a young child, that can touch upon really interesting engineering topics, that aren’t the traditional ways that girls have been brought up. There are these new toys called Goldieblox, for example, where you can have a doll and then the doll can have a story underlying it that is about how she built a tower or a catapult and kind of bringing them in with things that maybe they’ve seen traditionally in society, but then also exposing them to new concepts, I think is really important.

I found some engineering programs that were in different universities that were for high school students that allowed me to have experience learning about CAD, which is computer-aided design. So I could actually build the things in a computer that I was dreaming of in my head. And those types of experiences can be great to just really dig into, “What excites you about science or engineering?” And taking that initiative to go seek it out further.

There are women in engineering, and there’s a path for them. There has been so much done by women over the course of the entire world and society generally. I think having a little bit of a critical mass in any given space can be really comforting for someone who can feel otherwise kind of alienated in a given environment that maybe they’re really interested in the content of the environment but look around, and they’re like, “Do I belong here?”

Being a woman in engineering is not easy at times, but going through each of those scenarios has allowed me to mature in different ways. Sometimes like you wish that you didn’t have to mature in those ways. But it has allowed me to set the groundwork for women who come after me to create companies that I think are comfortable and welcoming places to expose that perspective.

Climate Success Needs All Hands on Deck

We need all the help we can get in solving the climate problem. And what I’ve heard a lot recently from people is asking me how they get into climate. “How do I get into climate tech?” Or, “How do I switch industries?” There’s this barrier that shouldn’t be there. And I’m not sure what exactly is causing it — if it’s just natural for people to feel like switching industries is hard. But the climate industry is growing.

I encourage you to think deeply into what experiences — and it doesn’t have to be a perfect engineering experience or a perfect background in marketing or communications — that is going to get you there. It’s really, how can you utilize your background and provide value in this effort to solve this giant problem that we have?

We say there’s this big climate problem, and we have to go solve it. I think, unfortunately, there’s a lot of saying that and not necessarily a lot of actually practically taking the steps to do it. And so I’m really excited to see where this administration goes with pushing for that and actually pushing for the implementation of some of those big ideas. But then really excited also for Charm’s place in that effort.

The Transcript: Bigger Than Us Episode 147

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Host Raj Daniels  00:23

So, Kelly, I like to open the show by asking my guests the following question. If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Kelly Hering  02:32

Let’s see. So when I was working on the rocket at Astra, I was doing some of the structures design for the spacecraft team. One of the things that my colleague and I did was we made the entire engine structure––the structure that holds the engine to the bottom tank of the rocket––we made it pink and purple, which I think is pretty unique for the space industry. Generally, you get a lot of blacks and whites and silvers, but not a lot of pickup purples. So that was a fun activity.

Host Raj Daniels  03:07

That is very unique. Tell me more about making up a rocket.

Kelly Hering  03:11

Yeah, so when I was at Astra, the intent was to build these small rockets similar to how you build a Cessna. So as inexpensive as possible using a very iterative approach. And so we designed and built a rocket in just about a year, the first rocket of that company. Now they’re on, I think, rocket 3.2. So I believe that’s five or six in their rocket suite. But we were there for the first year of the company. What I found is that rockets are basically a lot of plumbing with engines attached. So you have these two large tanks and some structure to hold them together, some area to hold the satellite in the upper stage of the rocket up on the top, and then an engine structure on the bottom. And there’s a lot of interesting problems in designing that rocket, from structural problems to thermal problems. I also designed the liquid oxygen downcomer. So taking the liquid oxygen from the top tank, down around the bottom tank to the engine bay, which was a really cool project for me, because I hadn’t dealt with any cryogenic or thermal design before. And this long tube could shrink on the order of inches once it got cold enough due to liquid oxygen. So that was a really interesting design problem and fascinating new experiences coming from the satellite world to the rocket world.

Host Raj Daniels  04:40

What was the purpose of these rockets?

Kelly Hering  04:43

So the rockets that we were designing at Astro were basically intending to take small satellites to orbit, and so those small satellites might look like the satellites that I worked on at Planet which are small, CubeSat sized satellites about the size of a shoebox, actually, and they can launch a few of them. They’re expanding capacity as they go through the different iterations and upgrades of their rocket. But it might be able to take a few of those small satellites to orbit for either companies or universities who might want to not piggyback on a larger rocket, which is how typically CubeSats go to orbit, they are an extra weight on a much larger rocket, but you don’t have a lot of opportunities to choose your orbit or to decide exactly the altitude that you want to go in space. So these are to serve those types of clients effectively.

Host Raj Daniels  05:35

I hear about all these satellite launches. And I think Elon Musk is working on one right now with his base program launching satellites. Do you have any idea as to just how crowded the space above us is getting with satellites?

Kelly Hering  05:48

From what I have been reading and hearing it’s getting quite crowded. But in lower Earth orbit, which is where a lot of the satellites that planet is operating––I’m not actually sure off the top of my head right now where Starlink is, which is the Elon Musk internet satellites that you were talking about. But everything in lower Earth orbit eventually comes down due to the drag of the atmosphere. So it’s a couple of years that they stay up there, but it doesn’t remain as space debris. So that’s comforting to know that eventually, it will burn up in the atmosphere. And we can kind of continue that cycle without collectively adding stuff to orbit, but you do have a fair amount of rocket bodies and things that end up in higher orbits that take much longer to come down over time.

Host Raj Daniels  06:32

And one last question. I promise I’ll get off this real soon. But I’m just fascinated by this. You mentioned the satellite coming down and burning up. Do they all burn up? or do some have planned landings?

Kelly Hering  06:43

I think the only things that have planned landings are things like re-entry events of much, much larger structures. So whether or not that’s a rocket launch where a fairing is coming down, or like the first stage, for example, as we start landing different first stages of rockets now. But a lot of the smaller satellites and the things that are in orbit are actually designed to come down. You work with NASA, to basically do a plan to show that every one of the pieces of your satellite is not too big, or made of certain materials that won’t burn up in the atmosphere. So you can prove that you can’t hurt anyone when they come down.

Host Raj Daniels  07:18

I really appreciate the insight. I’m going to switch gears here and go from satellites to your current organization. Can you give the audience an overview of Charm Industrial and your role there?

Kelly Hering  07:29

Sure. So Charm Industrial has a mission to reduce global CO2 concentrations to 280 parts per million or pre-industrial era levels. And we’re doing so through a couple of different methods. But at a glance, it’s really that we’re scaling this production of this liquid called bio-oil. And we’re scaling it to three new markets. First is the carbon removal market. And this just happened within the last year. So I’m excited to kind of get into how this has progressed over the last year. But basically, people can choose to purchase negative emissions from us, where we produce bio-oil, and then we take that bio-oil and we pump it underground into different types of wells that will permanently sequester the bio-oil out of the biosphere on the order of 10,000 years that we would hope for in terms of carbon sequestration. The other market is that we can take that bio-oil and convert it to syngas to decarbonize certain industrial processes like green steel production. And then we can also clean up that same gas and then turn it into, for example, industrial hydrogen, and then serve the decarbonization of industrial hydrogen markets like refineries or ammonia production,

Host Raj Daniels  08:48

What is syngas?

Kelly Hering  08:49

Yeah, so syngas is a mixture of gases. So it’s majority carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane is usually the general mix there. And certain processes prefer certain carbon monoxide to hydrogen ratios that will help them produce different things. For steel is the direct iron reduction process that produces green steel, a certain amount of carbon monoxide, and a certain amount of hydrogen for the energy for that process. And generally, the bio-oil that we are making, we’re producing from biomass. So we’re taking waste agricultural products like corn stover or wheat straw that’s typically bailed and then used for things like animal bedding, or perhaps it’s just burned for fuel or heat or it’s just left to rot on the field. Sometimes it’s used for regenerative agriculture. And we definitely want to maintain that as a thing that we’re doing generally for the climate and the future of our agriculture in the US, but we’re trying to use as much of the excess of that to produce this bio-oil product that we can then use to support other industries and how to bring down emissions from them.

Host Raj Daniels  10:02

And of course, without giving you any trade secrets, can you share how you get from the corn stover to bio-oil? 

Kelly Hering  10:09

Yeah, so corn stover or wheat straw is usually left on the field after the corn and wheat are harvested, and it dries out a bit on the field. And then it’s usually bailed and sold to different people. And so we take that bale, we then chop it up into finer powders, we might dry it a little more as needed. And then we insert it into a reactor that does this reaction called pyrolysis. And pyrolysis is basically just the decomposition of things in the absence of oxygen. The cellulose and the lignin and the different concentrations that are in biomass, or plants effectively, are then broken down into basically long-chain hydrocarbon vapor in a reactor, and then we condense that vapor into a liquid. And then that liquid is effectively bio-oil. And so people have actually tried to produce this by oil for many years now, pyrolysis has been around for maybe, I think, 40, maybe even 50 years. And it hasn’t really taken off, unfortunately. And that I think, is mainly due to the fact that people have been trying to make it an alternative fuel. And bio-oil itself actually has a high water content, something on the order of 25 to 30%. And then it also has a high oxygen content, which isn’t great when you want to try to burn it as fuel. And so something different that Charm is doing is really saying, perhaps the important part of this bio-oil is not the concept of it as a fuel replacement, but rather the concept of it is as utilizing it for its carbon content. And so by putting it back underground, we’re effectively closing the oil cycle. So oil is burnt, or fossil fuels are brought out of the ground, they’re burned, they produce the CO2 in the air, plants take that CO2, they use it to grow, obviously, and then we’re taking those plants making it back into an oil and then pumping it back underground, enclosing the full cycle there. 

Host Raj Daniels  12:08

And just to give an idea to the audience, how much waste or biowaste is available, talking about here nationally, for you to scale?

Kelly Hering  12:17

There’s quite a bit of waste agriculture right now. So I want to say it’s on the order of at least a gigaton in the year a year in the US. But I think it’s on the order of 14 gigatons per year globally, in order to scale in that respect. There’s also purpose-grown biomass. And we’ve explored that a bit. Purpose-grown biomass is basically like creating biomass that is very high-yield that is solely for the purpose of generating this bio-oil. And we want to be careful to make sure that we’re not replacing land that would otherwise go to food production, or we don’t want to take down forests, for example, to produce this purpose ground biomass. So right now we’re going to target those wastes agricultural processes. But in terms of scaling, you could see a future where some combination of that and purpose ground biomass might be able to support us in scaling that further.

Host Raj Daniels  13:11

You’re a relatively new company, where did the idea for the company come from?

Kelly Hering  13:14

A few friends and I were looking into ways to remove CO2 from the air profitably, and doing so in a way that we can actually say, hey, there’s a business who can actually sustain itself on saving the planet from this situation that we’ve found ourselves in, which is the crippling effects of climate change. And so when we looked through the different options, and the different technological methods, there was a fair bit of them that just didn’t pass the base economic test that we were looking for. And then we were also worth thinking about like, okay, what we’re good at, at a certain level is taking these slower industries, and peeling back those layers of those large, slow-moving industries, and really understanding what the first principles are behind them. And then taking those and trying to upend those business models and say, okay, why hasn’t this worked in the past? We know that plants are one of the best ways is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. What has happened to bioenergy and carbon capture, or BECCS as an industry? Why hasn’t it taken off? Are we truly limited by biomass? Are we limited by the process? Or are we limited by the economics? And what we really found was that the economics of the CAPEX and OPEX surrounding BECCS, really has just not really panned out in combination with the price of biomass, the price of operating and building those plants, and then also the lack of the offtake, so to speak, or the purchasers of the final product. And so we’ve kind of looked at those in different ways. So for example, on the biomass side, when we found that biomass was going to be really expensive, we put down this really big chemical plant, mostly because farmers see that you’ve put steel in the ground. And that you want their biomass and effectively need their biomass. So then prices can drive up from there. And so what we were thinking on that end is that we’re looking at these pyrolysis units as these mobile, almost like combine harvester tractor type units that can move with the harvest and not necessarily stay in one place for any given time, which allows us to reduce the price of biomass or go to places where biomass might just happen to be cheaper due to forestry, or a thinning operation or an excess amount of biomass in one given spot due to some circumstance. On the CAPEX and OPEX side, we’re really rethinking that through design work and thinking, okay, how do we make this process overall cheaper? What are the biggest cost items in this process? And how do we work around them both from a process design, but also a mechanical and electrical design standpoint? And then on the final bit, which is how do we make sure that there are people to purchase those, we’re really thinking about what those new markets are, as opposed to thinking about traditionally as, oh, we need to sell this bio-oil as a fuel, we’re thinking, okay, well, we can sell it as negative emissions, which drops the need for the quality of the bio-oil to be incredibly high to be injected into an engine, for example. We’re thinking about syngases, like, okay, if we go for industrial processes, maybe we don’t necessarily have to get the syngas. And this perfectly clean state, if we think about what markets we’re targeting, and who can accept certain impurities, and then work from there, work on the technological innovations that can push the process intensity and the cost-effectiveness, and the performance of any of those machines even further from there. But we’re really taking that iterative approach. So we have something we know works, we can understand the logistics around it, and then we’ll continually improve that thing over time.

Host Raj Daniels  16:57

You said something very interesting when you first started speaking about the beginning of the company that leads to my next question, which is the why behind what you do. But you said that you and some friends were sitting around thinking about how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere? Is that a conversation you have often?

Kelly Hering  17:17

Yeah, I think that’s what a lot of conversations are if you’re watching the state of the world right now, and obviously, it’s come a lot more to the forefront with the new administration. But it is something that I think people who have an awareness of some of these major problems that surround us and live in this world in San Francisco, you’re constantly asking yourself, these big questions. And I think that’s one of the things about living here. That’s been so fascinating. With all these new companies in the tech surrounding this area, you end up having this much more blue-sky thinking of, we can do anything, what should we do? And I think that can be naive at times. But it also can be really exciting and accelerative, to push further and to really ask yourself those big questions.

Host Raj Daniels  18:05

I love naive thinking, let’s get back to the why. It seems to be a common thread in your journey. Tell me about the why and why this is important to you, and why it’s been important to you.

Kelly Hering  18:16

Generally, the mission of trying to help the world globally, and to try to help people through social impact has always been something that really drove me. In high school, I worked on women’s and girls’ education, and social impact really got me into engineering as a whole. And thinking about how I could use the superpower of invention to help people was something that just really excited me throughout my entire life. And then once I really learned more and more about climate change, and was reached out to with a few friends to start thinking about this, I think it just became so much more apparent how far behind we were and how much we needed to do. And it was easy to throw all of your energy behind it when you saw that dire problem. And what drives me really, though, is, I think, thinking more broadly is, okay, we have this opportunity now to fix, I think one of the world’s greatest failures, which is not addressing climate change earlier, and not giving ourselves the time to figure that out. And I want to use that also as an opportunity to think about how we build a company from scratch at this moment where we’ve been over the last few years learning more and more about generally all of society’s failings, for those who are listening and watching and I’m just really driven by the opportunity to do better and to think differently about how companies are built and how we serve the planet and all of its inhabitants in the way that we operate in this market-driven society. And so yeah, I think there’s the tech which is exciting. There’s the engineering which is exciting, and there’s the mission, which is awesome. Obviously, so potent and important. And then there’s also the background of, how do you create this environment in this community around bringing people to work every day to do their best work, where they feel comfortable and welcome and empowered and productive. And that also is just kind of underlying it all for me.

Host Raj Daniels  20:19

When did service or service become important to you?

Kelly Hering  20:23

I think service has always been important to me. It’s interesting, I went to a Catholic school. I’m not religious in any way. But my mom always let me kind of take my own path, which I’m eternally grateful for. And I was following some friends who were going to this Catholic school in the area, and it allowed me to see a different part of the state I was living in, New Jersey at the time. And she always said that she wondered if I gathered some amount of additional service work in that, not that it was necessarily religiously driven, but that the Catholic Church is definitely surrounded by, how do you serve others? And how do you help others? And I think my upbringing was surrounded by that both from different things like Girl Scouts and different work in school, or, as I got into engineering, it was engineering for social impact. I was really fascinated by the fact that once I learned that women and girls don’t have the same situation as me, in the US as they would in other country’s, I think my scope just broadened. And instead of seeing what was right in front of me, and the privilege that I had, I realized that there are so many different people in this world who don’t have the same things that I have. And why is that? And I think I was just starting to dig deeper into the differences that are there. And how do you serve that in ways that are conscious of different cultures, but also inequities that have existed?  I think as a woman, I’ve felt particularly close to it. But I’m also extremely lucky because I’m a white woman living in a fairly good situation and decent upbringing. And I know that that’s not the same for everyone. I think that’s always been underlying in the way that I want to help the world,

Host Raj Daniels  22:22

I appreciate you sharing that. Let’s go back to women and girls, how do we get? Or how would you suggest we get more women girls involved in engineering?

Kelly Hering  22:32

Yeah, I would say that showing them that there are women in engineering, and there’s a path for them. And really, “you can’t be what you can’t see” type of mentality. So showing them that there has been so much done by women over the course of the entire world and society generally. And it just maybe hasn’t been as emphasized or as clearly advertised to everyone that women have driven a lot of science and engineering throughout the course of our society. And so showing them there are opportunities there, showing that there are people like them, that they won’t be the only woman or girl in the room in a project like that. So I think having a little bit of a critical mass in any given space can be really comforting for someone who can feel otherwise kind of alienated in a given environment that maybe they’re really interested in the content of the environment, but look around, and they’re like, do I belong here? And so I think showing them that there are ways to learn and ways to entertain yourself, even as a young child that can touch upon really interesting engineering topics, that isn’t the traditional ways that girls have been brought up. So the things around the toys of girls where you think of like dolls and caregiving, and art, there’s a place for that and engineering first off. But also that there’s more than that there are these new toys called Goldieblox, for example, where you can have a doll and then the doll can have a story underlying it that is about how she built a tower or a catapult and kind of bringing them in with things that maybe they’ve seen traditionally in society, but then also exposing them to new concepts, I think is really important.

Host Raj Daniels  24:26

So let’s say there’s a high school student, female, that’s listening to the show, could you perhaps give them one or two tactical ideas? They’re showing an interest in engineering, but they’re not sure what to do next?

Kelly Hering  24:37

Sure, I think some ideas would be one to see if there are any groups or activities in your area that might serve you exposing yourself to those types of topics. So there could be like FIRST robotics teams, or different opportunities to build stuff like Habitat for Humanities and things where you can do both service work with a group of people, so that might be a great way to meet new people who also learn different skills and be able to expose you to those skills and grow your toolbox of things that you want to learn and grow into. I think also reaching out to different mentors in your classrooms, so your teachers who might be able to help you learn more about a given topic that you might be really interested in. And I’m sure there might be some different summer camps. For example, what I did in high school was, I was very close to New York City. So I found some engineering programs that were in different universities that were for high school students that allowed me to have experience learning about CAD, which is computer-aided design. So I could actually build the things in a computer that I was dreaming of in my head. And those types of experiences can be great to just really dig into what excites you about science or engineering? Is it specifically in the engineering field or electricals and mechanical, biomedical, or in the science field? Is there a particular area of science that really fascinates you? And taking that initiative to go seek it out further.

Host Raj Daniels  26:11

Really appreciate you sharing that. So from working on rockets to Charm Industrial, what are some of the most valuable lessons that you say you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?

Kelly Hering  26:21

I think I’ve learned that there is a place for the way that I think about the world and about the way that we think about building things. And that if I can find the right type of people and the right environment where I feel comfortable sharing that then that can be really powerful. And that I’m stronger than I seem in those situations. Being a woman in engineering is not easy at times, and but going through each of those scenarios has allowed me to mature in different ways. Sometimes like you wish that you didn’t have to mature in those ways. But it has allowed me to set the groundwork for women who come after me to create companies that I think are comfortable and welcoming places to expose that perspective. And I mean, I’ve just learned a lot as an engineer, which has been really exciting for me. Changing from the space industry to the cleantech or climate tech industry has this whole new world of chemical engineering, which I hadn’t gotten to deepen in my studies and college. And so knowing that it is possible to change those industries without having to go back to school and totally reinvent yourself is really exciting for me because you really just have to take those first principles that you learned in school and the foundations of engineering and start figuring out ways that you can apply your background and your experiences to something entirely new.

Host Raj Daniels  27:58

I love the idea about the way you think about the world. Earlier in the conversation, you said the superpower of invention. And I’m going to ask you to tap into your superpower of imagination right now. It’s 2030. If Forbes or Businessweek were to write a headline about Charm Industrial 10 years from now, what would it say?

Kelly Hering  28:17

Well, my dream would be that it says that we’ve reached a gigaton a year by 2030. That would show that we are well on our way to solving the climate crisis and that we have scaled our systems well enough to make them a lot more reachable to all corners of the US and brought down the cost-effectively and brought down the OPEX effectively to scale the entire vision. And it also means that the world has been on the track of pushing for climate tech and pushing for carbon removal. And really, I guess, practicing what they preach when we say there’s this big climate problem, and we have to go solve it. I think we, unfortunately, there’s a lot of saying that and not necessarily a lot of actually practically taking the steps to do it. And so I’m really excited to see where this administration goes with pushing for that and actually pushing for the implementation of some of those big ideas. But then really excited also for Charm’s place in that effort.

Host Raj Daniels  29:23

I’m excited too. It’s a great headline. How did the name Charm come about?

Kelly Hering  29:28

Yeah, so this is really interesting. So Charm, one of the things that were initially looking at, so Charm’s taken a lot of twists and turns over the years. The initial concept was actually producing biochar from the same processes that we’re currently using. So pyrolysis and gasification. One of the other products when you heat up the biomass in the absence of oxygen, besides that vapor which returned to oil, there’s also biochar, and so there’s a lot of people looking into biochar, and its effectiveness as a carbon sequestration medium, but also as a soil additive, where you can actually provide it to the soil and support soil growth and soil enhancement. And so what we wanted to do was actually both produce biochar for soil and those purposes, but also think about how we can visualize the effects of climate change on a bigger level by using biochar to create these bricks to build the temple to climate change. And this is a really, really early concept. So it wasn’t actually the business concept that was the basis of Charm, but it was kind of like, hey, what does this look like to build up the temple to climate change, and build it out of these blocks of biochar? Eventually became, okay, well, we can produce biochar, we’ll also produce hydrogen and we’ll sell hydrogen for this cost thanks to the subsidies and so on. But Charm comes from char farm. So if you combine that, it’s Charm.

Host Raj Daniels  31:00

I like that. So Kelly, last question, and you already gave some advice earlier, but if you could share some specific advice, or words of wisdom, and it could be professional or personal with the audience, what would it be?

Kelly Hering  31:13

I think, what I would say is that we need all the help we can get in solving the climate problem. And what I’ve heard a lot recently from people is asking me how they get into climate. How do I get into climate tech? Or how do I switch industries? And I feel like there’s this barrier that just really shouldn’t be there. And I’m not sure what exactly is causing it if it’s just natural for people to feel like switching industries is hard. But the climate industry is growing. And it’s just starting out. Over the last couple of years, we’ve really been building it. And of course, there’s the physical and the important implementation of like actually finding a company that you can use your skills, but I don’t want that concept of going into a new industry to be a barrier for a new one. And for anyone to feel like their background or their experience has somehow led them or stopped them from being a part of the climate solution. And so I encourage you to think deep into what experiences and it doesn’t have to be a perfect engineering experience or a perfect background in marketing or communications that is going to get you there. It’s really, how can you utilize your background and provide value in this effort to solve this giant problem that we have? And to not be held back by the concept of starting a new industry? Or maybe your background wasn’t exactly perfect? Or how you’ve always dreamed it would be because it’s all important, and it all serves you in some way, shape or form. So yeah, just kind of keep at it and keep searching for what your part of the solution is.

Host Raj Daniels  32:54

Kelly, I feel like we’re very much aligned. We just recently in our South Carolina office, have launched an initiative to work with local high schools, then the initiative is called renewable energy for non-engineers. And the idea behind it is that we’ve created this presentation that we’re presenting to a small group of high schools, beginning in South Carolina. And essentially the idea is to show students that they can get involved in this movement. And you mentioned finance or marketing and communications, wherever their major or their interest can intersect with this movement is what we’re trying to emphasize. So, there is not that that whole, you know, the hurdle of “you have to become an engineer.” You can even go to trade school, you can go to community, it doesn’t matter what the background is like you said, there is a way to get engaged. So I really appreciate you sharing that. Yeah, exactly. That sounds like a great program. Kelly, thank you so much. And it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Kelly Hering  33:52

Awesome. It was really great speaking with you as well and hope to talk more soon.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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If there’s a subject or topic you’d like to hear about, send Raj Daniels an email at BTU@NexusPMG.com or contact me via our website, NexusPMG.com. While you’re there, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter where we share what we’re reading and thinking about in the cleantech green tech sectors

Raj Daniels

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