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The Rest of the Carbon Removal Ecosystem
by Jamie Wong, Member of South Park Commons
The following is a condensed version of an introduction to the market map of carbon removal called, “For Sale: A Promise to Remove Invisible Gas.”
In a select few corn fields after a harvest, the unwanted stalks, leaves, and cobs are fed into a storage container on the back of a long-haul truck. These agricultural wastes won’t be hitting the road in their loose, fluffy state though. The storage container doesn’t start empty. It contains a complex chemical machine fine-tuned to efficiently convert the corn detritus into bio-oil. After transport, the bio-oil is destined to be injected deep underground. Bizarrely, people will pay for it to be put there, not to save for later use, but with the promise that it will stay there forever.
This whole operation happens under the purview of Charm Industrial, a leading participant in a growing market of players with a shared goal: suck carbon dioxide directly out of the air and store it away for good. This is carbon dioxide removal, or CDR for short.
The machinery acting as this conceptual vacuum cleaner for the sky is about as diverse as you can imagine for an industrial process. Charm’s bio-oil production is just one of many. Another method starts with trays of powdered rock and ends with cement production. A third involves growing kelp in the open ocean and encouraging it to eventually sink to the bottom.
Even with the most optimistic projections aimed at reducing our annual CO2 emissions by 75% by 2050, we’ll still need a massive amount of removal to stabilize our climate. We’ll need an entirely new global industry on the scale of steel or cement.
Much of the coverage for this budding industry has focused on one of two questions: what technology do we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and who’s going to pay for the removal?
These are crucial questions! But this focus has sidelined questions like:
How confident are we that the core methodology actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and prevents it from being re-emitted?
How confident are we that the entire process is net-negative after you account for manufacturing, transportation, electrical power generation, etc?
How are we going to build the industrial partnerships needed to scale deployment?
How are we going to find land and obtain the necessary permits for massive scale deployment?
How is any of this going to be funded before the removal companies can start selling carbon removal credits?
How are buyers going to have visibility into exactly where their money went?
In a future regulatory environment where purchasing carbon removal is mandatory, how does auditing work? Bills like California’s SB 308 might require an answer to this soon.
The entire carbon removal industry is nascent, but the supporting ecosystem needed to answer these auxiliary questions is positively embryonic.
There are, thankfully, some organizations willing to wade into this primordial goo.
Isometric is building a multi-pathway registry and verification service specifically for carbon removal. Buyers of carbon removal go to Isometric and pay for thorough due diligence and bookkeeping of carbon removal credits. Isometric then works with carbon removal suppliers to gather granular data to support their claims of removal.
CarbonPlan does independent research into climate solutions. Their CDR Verification Framework identifies sources of uncertainty in the magnitude and permanence of negative emissions for prominent carbon removal pathways.
AirMiners is accelerating the creation of CDR companies by helping them secure early funding through discounted pre-sale of credits. They also offer a free 6-week cohort-based course called Boot Up for beginners that want to delve deeper into carbon removal.
Streamline helps climate tech companies find and win grant funding. The Department of Energy and ARPA-E alone have billions of dollars of funding available, but writing and managing grant applications takes time and effort. Streamline provides tools to ease that pain.
Enduring Planet provides loans to climate companies when those companies are confident they’ll have money in the future (e.g. from grants or revenue), but they need capital now to accelerate their growth.
Most of these companies are less than 2 years old. There are no incumbents in this industry. If you’d like to stake your claim in the beginnings of a market with destiny in the hundreds of billions of dollars, now’s a good time, and you’ll find people to welcome you on the way in.
Take it from Ryan Orbuch, PM at Stripe turned Partner at Lowercarbon Capital:
A weird property of the frontier: finding the edge forces a realization that there are very few people there, the others who’ve found it are tightly clustered and therefore quite happy to see you, and you all can’t help but ask “where is everybody?” in escalating confusion.
For the full-length version of this piece, see “For Sale: A Promise to Remove Invisible Gas.”
✍️ The Draw-down
Weekly climate art by Nicole Kelner
🍿 The Lean Back
Learn about the weird loophole that made American cars so big from Distilled.
📢 Climate Action of the Week
Sign up for the next Climate Changemakers Hour of Action here.
Diesel buses are heavy polluters and health hazards, but over 90% of America’s school buses still run on diesel. The EPA is awarding $400 million in grants for electric buses this year, meaning school districts can start to electrify their fleets—for free. It’s up to us to help spread the word to school districts before the application deadline on August 22. Contact a local school district to let them know.
👩💻 Climate Jobs
Clean Energy Engineering Intern at Bloc Power (New York, NY)
Product Manager: Strategy & Policy at Climatebase (Remote)
Customer Support Lead at David Energy (Remote)
Production Technician at Heirloom (Brisbane, CA)
Synthetic Biologist at Hoxton Farms (London, England, UK)
Business Development Manager - Energy Storage at Leap (Remote)
Mobile App Lead at Mill (San Bruno, California)
Brand Marketing and Communications Lead at Quilt (Redwood City, CA)
Security Engineer at Waterplan (Remote)
🗓 June Events
Click the event title for details & RSVP info. For more climate events, check out the #c-events channel in MCJ Slack.
🤠 MCJ Houston Climate Tech Happy Hour: Hang out with the MCJ team and other members of the Houston Climate Tech community at Second Draught. (6/22)
👋 MCJ Community Welcome Call: Connect, share and learn with members. (6/22)
🌇 MCJ San Francisco Climate Tech meetup: Casual meetup with no set agenda. Come and meet likeminded folks in climate tech! (6/22)
☕️ Seattle Climate Tech Coffee Crawl: Visiting 6 locations in the area. The full route will be emailed to you after you register. (6/24)
👭 Women in Climate Meetup: Monthly meetup for women who work in, or want to work in, climate. (6/28)
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