Why Big Tech Is Pouring Money Into Carbon Removal

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes the need to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is why Big Tech is investing in carbon removal, stressing that reducing emissions alone will not suffice.

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The market for carbon removal is growing quickly, and tech companies are pouring money into early-stage carbon capture and storage startups to help them scale up and lower costs.

The funding surge corresponds with findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizing the need of removing billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stressing that attempts to reduce emissions alone will not be enough.

“We have to do emissions reduction at a massive scale, at a massive pace period. Full stop.” The head of climate at Stripe, an online payment company that has spent millions on  carbon removal technologies, Nan Ransohoff, stated, “Unfortunately, because we’ve done such a poor job with that to date, we are now also going to have to do carbon removal”.

The technique of storing carbon dioxide that has previously been emitted is known as carbon removal. This is different from absorbing smokestack emissions or recycling carbon to create temporary items like carbonated beverages, polymers, or fuels. While planting trees is one approach, scientists warn that it is insufficient to address climate change.

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In an effort to speed up research and development efforts and reduce costs, Stripe joined up with Alphabet, Meta, Shopify, and McKinsey in April to form a venture called Frontier. Frontier wants to buy $925 million worth of carbon removal from new carbon removal companies by 2030.

The technical methods for permanently removing carbon vary greatly, from using huge fans to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and inject it into rocks to changing the pH of the ocean to allow it to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere. But regardless of the methodology, a fraction of these technologies will probably need to scale up quickly in the next years in order to keep global warming below 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius.

According to Eric Toone, technology lead at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which has made numerous investments in the carbon removal sector, “the scales these are going to have to be built out at almost defy comprehension.” “To capture something like 30% of emissions in 2050, you’re talking about building an industry that’s three times five times larger than the global petrochemical industry today.”

Different storage methods

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Climeworks is working with Icelandic company Carbfix to permanently sequester CO2 underground at its new direct air capture and storage plant in Iceland

Some of the most recognizable players in this market are direct air capture companies like Climeworks and Carbon Engineering. To remove CO2 from the air, large fans and sophisticated chemical processes or filters are used. But up until recently, there wasn’t a reason to just bury the carbon, so they had to sell it elsewhere.

For instance, Carbon Engineering has sold its CO2 to oil and gas corporations for “enhanced oil recovery,” which involves injecting carbon dioxide underground to retrieve more oil from petroleum wells. Although the carbon is sequestered, the process results in more oil which must be burned, therefore it almost never causes negative emissions and is not regarded as “carbon removal.”

Climeworks

Swiss company Climeworks initially entered the market by selling captured CO2 to beverage companies that use it to produce carbonated drinks as well as greenhouses in Switzerland where it is used to grow vegetables. But starting in 2017, Climeworks collaborated with Carbfix, an Icelandic company that uses water to dissolve captured carbon and inject it into basalt rock formations to permanently sequester CO2.

“The CO2 is injected into these rocks and is then mineralized. That literally means the CO2, within two years after injection, is turned into stone. So it is solidified a kilometer underground and thereby it is absolutely, permanently stored for the next hundreds of millions of years,” said Jan Wurzbacher, Climework’s co-founder and Co-CEO.

Climeworks, which received funding from Stripe in part, opened a new direct air capture and storage facility in Iceland last year. Most recently, the company raised $650 million, the largest funding round in the history of the carbon removal sector.

Charm Industrial

By collecting crop residue from farms, such as stalks, stems, and leaves, Charm Industrial thinks it has discovered a less costly method of carbon removal. Carbon from the atmosphere has already been captured by this biomass. Charm converts it into bio-oil, which is then kept underground.

“The conversion process from biomass to bio-oil is called pyrolysis or fast pyrolysis. And it’s where we first grind down the biomass into really, really tiny pieces so that we can push heat through it really quickly, ” explained Charm CEO Peter Reinhardt. “And then we heat it up from room temperature to 500 degrees centigrade in less than a few seconds. And that really fast heating rate vaporizes the cellulose and the biomass. And then we condense it back into a liquid.”

The bio-oil is then injected deep down, where it solidifies, as a last step. The first client of Charm was Stripe, and now companies like Microsoft and Shopify have also signed on.

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Bay Area-based Charm Industrial sources biomass from farms, converts it to bio-oil and injects it deep underground as a method of permanent carbon removal

CarbonCure

The Canadian company CarbonCure takes a different approach. Unlike to Climeworks and Charm, CarbonCure uses carbon dioxide by infusing it into concrete mixtures, permanently storing the gas while also strengthening the concrete.

“The CO2 is injected into concrete and it’s reacting with the cement as it’s being batched. And a chemical reaction occurs where the calcium reacts with the CO2 to form a mineral,” Robert Niven, CarbonCure founder and CEO explained. “Why that reaction matters is it’s actually increasing the strength of concrete.”

Because of the increased strength, concrete producers can use less cement in their mixtures, contributing to a more environmentally friendly industrial process. Its initial client was Stripe, and now it has Shopify, Mapbox, and Zendesk on board.

Currently, CO2 is obtained by CarbonCure’s concrete producer partners from large industrial facilities where it is collected from smokestacks, such as ethanol plants or refineries. This means that CarbonCure isn’t reducing CO2, but rather stopping roughly 600 plants from releasing new emissions.

However, the company is beginning to engage in carbon removal thanks to a Department of Energy-funded partnership with the direct air capture company CarbonCapture in California.

Planetary Technologies

A new method for permanently removing carbon from the atmosphere uses ocean-based capture and storage.

Planetary Technologies, based in Canada, developed their technique on the premise that the ocean’s acid has increased through time due to a rise in the relative concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean, which is always in balance. However, the ocean would be better able to absorb more CO2 from the air if we could lessen the acidity of the ocean by reducing its CO2 level. By adding an antacid into seawater, Planetary is aiming to achieve that.

“So by just simply adding our antacid into seawater, we’re neutralizing this acidic CO2, we’re turning it into bicarbonate or baking soda, and then that stays in seawater for 100,000 years,” said Mike Kelland, CEO of Planetary Technologies. “And what that means is that because the concentration in the ocean of CO2 is lower now, more CO2 will invade from the atmosphere to balance out that concentration.”

By adding its antacid to wastewater treatment facilities that already have permits that allow them to clean up water before it goes into the ocean, Planetary aims to begin open-ocean trials this year. Planetary’s first client is Shopify.

The business model gap: Carbon markets needed

Working in this sector at the moment is exciting, but early-stage investment by IT companies and others will only get you so far.

“There’s no doubt that if we’re going to do this to try and address climate change, eventually we’re going to have to just capture this CO2 and pump it into the ground and store it for eternity. And to do that, we need carbon markets,” said Toone of Breakthrough Energy.

Over 20 cities, states, and provinces, along with about 40 countries, already apply some sort of carbon pricing, though many times the rates would be too low to promote carbon removal even if these companies were operating at scale.

The existing tax credit for carbon storage, which is around $35 per ton of geologically sequestered CO2 and about $22 for CO2 used in a product like concrete, is not enough, according to many industry leaders.. The U.S. should also adopt a federal carbon pricing plan and increase the credit.

The Department of Energy recently announced a $3.5 billion program to build four direct air capture hubs around the United States, each of which is designed to permanently remove more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Carbon removal does, in general, enjoy bipartisan support in Washington.

“I think that government management of a market that prices carbon in a way that results in its removal happens when people decide that it’s cheaper to deal with the CO2 than it is to deal with the consequences of the CO2,” said Toone. “And there is absolutely a growing awareness of exactly what the costs of that carbon are.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The western oligarchs are living in a bubble invented by their greed and their own lies. Their main problem is that they are going to believe their own lies as truth. They only believe in any idea that makes them rich even if it is against any law of physics or logics. The book of Robert J. Kennedy about Fauci and his peers reveals what they understand under “science”, copy the history of COVID and use it as their overall model of “science”. The invention of “political correctness” is their strategy to replace the classic scientific process – of discussing controversial theories to check their content and to find new better solutions – by their own media to tell the world who is expert and who tells the truth supported by a fake digital world. What they are doing in reality is that they are on a path of suizide and destroying their neigborhood as well. Their greed will also lead to a fight under themself who gets the biggest share of their loot as a combustive agent. Hopefully their inevitable crash will not damage too much e.g. by a nuclear war.

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