Climate tech is in a place where it needs all the help it can get. Fortunately, there’s a lot of untapped expertise in the oil and gas sector.
Case in point: Silviu Livescu spent decades in the oil and gas industry working for Baker Hughes and ExxonMobil. He’s won several awards from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and has dozens of patents to help coax more oil out of the ground.
Then in 2021, he became a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and taught the school’s first geothermal engineering class. He even helped author a report on the topic. Now, he has a company that takes his expertise in drilling deep into the Earth’s crust and translates it into sustainable geothermal heating and cooling for commercial and industrial buildings.
Big buildings almost always have big carbon footprints, and getting the carbon out of their heating and cooling systems is especially challenging. Many buildings use natural gas to keep them warm in cold months, and some even use fossil fuel for cooling in the summer, too. It’s possible to swap boilers with air-source heat pumps, but it isn’t always practical, particularly if the building is taller than it is wide and rooftop space is tight.
That’s why Livescu and his company, Bedrock Energy, are looking down instead of up.
Ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal heat pumps, could help decarbonize heating and cooling for large buildings around the country. Such systems circulate water or another working fluid in and out of the ground, where the Earth’s tendency to maintain stable temperatures then helps heat or cool the building above.
Geothermal isn’t a new technology by any means, but Bedrock is hoping that its team’s oil and gas bonafides can help it break into markets that had previously overlooked the technology. This week, the company said it has raised an $8.5 million seed round led by Wireframe Ventures, with participation from Overture Climate VC, Long Journey Ventures, Cantos, Toba Capital, First Star Ventures, Divergent Capital and Climate Capital.
Most ground-source heat pumps rely on refrigerant loops that snake horizontally several feet below the surface or a few bores that stretch a few hundred feet down. For single-family homes or campuses that have a lot of open space, those approaches make sense. But for skyscrapers or industrial buildings, there may not be enough land for horizontal loops or the large number of vertical bores that would be required.